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Finnish, US defence ministers discuss ISIS and Winter War

Finnish Defence Minister Jussi Niinistö met with his new American counterpart James Mattis ahead of a counter-ISIS coalition meeting in Washington, and invited him to a meeting in Finland next autumn.

James Mattis ja Jussi Niinistö
James Mattis and Jussi Niinistö met at the Pentagon on March 21. Image: Zach Gibson / AFP

Finnish Defence Minister Jussi Niinistö has met with the new US Secretary of Defense James Mattis in Washington. At their meeting on Tuesday, Mattis pledged to deepen defence cooperation between the two countries during his term.

"Mattis said he was impressed by the hybrid threats centre being set up in Finland, and by Finland's role as an intermediary between Russia and the West," Niinistö told Yle. The hybrid threats centre was announced late last year as a joint project involving several NATO and EU countries.

Niinistö said that Mattis seemed to be well-versed in issues involving Finland.

"He praised our conscription system and commitment to our defence of our own country," Niinistö said.

Winter War lessons

The meeting at the Pentagon was scheduled to last half an hour, but stretched to 45 minutes.

According to Niinistö, the retired Marine Corps general said he still clearly recalled studying Finnish tactics from the Winter War during his early military training.  

Mattis also provided reassurances that regardless of statements by President Trump, the US is not withdrawing from Europe, and that the superpower remains committed to partnerships with Finland and other European countries.

Niinistö replaces Soini at ISIS conference

On Wednesday, Niinistö is taking part in a major conference in Washington focusing on the threat of so-called Islamic State or ISIS. Representatives of 68 countries and international organisations are joining the counter-ISIS coalition meeting, which will consider ways to beef up the fight against the terrorist group.

That meeting is hosted by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Niinistö is standing in at the conference for his Finns Party colleague, Foreign Minister Timo Soini. Mattis is also scheduled to attend.

So far, Finland is participating in the fight against ISIS by sending about 100 soldiers to Iraq to train and advise local troops. In the past, the US has asked Finland for armed support in Iraq, but Niinistö says no such requests were made this time.

"Iraqi reconstruction to benefit Finland"

Finnish soldiers are not taking part in fighting in Iraq, although according to Niinistö they are within earshot of the battle for Mosul.

"When ISIS is defeated in Mosul, the emphasis will shift to rebuilding the country. Finland is considering whether we can help the Iraqis by training police, for instance," said Niinistö.

He says that the reconstruction of Iraq will benefit Finland in that it will mean fewer asylum seekers arriving here.

Of more than 38,000 asylum seekers who arrived in Finland in 2015 and 2016, some 57 percent were Iraqis, says the Finnish Immigration Service.

Niinistö invited Mattis to Finland in November to attend a joint meeting of NORDEFCO (Nordic Defence Cooperation) and the Northern Group, which includes the five Nordic countries, the three Baltic countries as well as Germany, the Netherlands, Poland and the UK.

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