WASHINGTON, March 11, 2018 - Defense Secretary James N. Mattis is in Oman's capital of Muscat on the first leg of an overseas trip designed to strengthen partnerships. Defense Secretary James N. Mattis, right, speaks with reporters during a flight to Muscat, Oman, March 11, 2018. DoD photo by Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith News Conference Defense Secretary James N. Mattis, right, speaks with reporters during a flight to Muscat, Oman, March 11, 2018. DoD photo by Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith Download Image Image details page
Cohesion is critical to maintaining stability in the Persian Gulf region, Mattis told reporters aboard an aircraft en route to Oman.
The secretary noted that building stronger partnerships and allies is the National Defense Strategy's No. 2 line of effort. "It's a steady, consistent line of effort," he added.
The Gulf Cooperation Council's unity has been "strained, to put it mildly," Mattis said, adding that he wants to hear what the sultan of Oman, Qaboos bin Said Al Said, says can be done about that situation. He also wants to hear the sultan's views on the factions fighting on Oman's border with Yemen and on Yemen's civil war, he said.
Qaboos has long endorsed terminating the violence in Yemen, Mattis noted, calling the sultan a "very strategic leader" who recognizes the advantage that violent extremists gain from disarray there.
Mattis said he and Qaboos also will discuss ways to further strengthen the U.S.-Oman military-to-military relationship.
Next Stop: Bahrain
From Oman, Mattis said, he will travel to Bahrain to meet with King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa to reinforce a strong defense partnership.
"Bahrain has for decades batted way above its weight in terms of providing support to the U.S.," he said, noting that the U.S.-Bahrain relationship began with an American missionary hospital there, which brought the first real medical care to the island kingdom.
"Bahrain is a very strong defense relationship and a vital regional ally to the United States," Mattis said, noting that the U.S. 5th Fleet has its headquarters there. "The basing is essential for our access and U.S. military operations in the Middle East. And they've been an excellent host for the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet," said he added.
Mattis said his visit to Bahrain and the 5th Fleet will be an opportunity for him to get to hear from the sailors and Marines stationed in Manama, Bahrain. "[I] like staying in touch with those folks and hearing their view of what's going on [among] our forces that are deployed out here," he said.
(Follow Terri Moon Cronk on Twitter: @MoonCronkDoD)