US President Donald Trump’s defence secretary said yesterday that he did not see possible military collaboration with Russia now, in a blow to Moscow’s hopes to mend ties with Washington after Trump’s election.
The remarks are perhaps the strongest indication yet from the Trump administration that prospects for any significant co-operation between the US and Russian militaries against Islamic State (IS) in Syria is unlikely anytime soon.
They came despite repeated suggestions by Trump during his election campaign of the possibility of joint action against Islamic State militants.
“We are not in a position right now to collaborate on a military level. But our political leaders will engage and try to find common ground,” Jim Mattis told reporters after talks at North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) headquarters in Brussels, also mentioning US concerns about Russian interference in democratic elections.
Just hours before Mattis spoke, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that it was in the interests of both nations to restore communications between their intelligence agencies.
“It’s absolutely clear that in the area of counter-terrorism all relevant governments and international groups should work together,” he told Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB).
US intelligence agencies, however, are among the most powerful voice of caution in Washington on Russia, concluding that Moscow hacked and leaked Democratic Party e-mails during the presidential campaign as part of efforts to tilt the vote in the November 8 election in Trump’s favour.
Monday’s resignation of national security adviser Michael Flynn, who was seen in Moscow as a leading advocate of warmer ties with Russia, has underscored for the Kremlin the difficulties of reaching a settlement.
Flynn resigned after disclosures that he had discussed US sanctions on Russia with the Russian ambassador to the United States before Trump took office, and that he later misled Vice-President Mike Pence about the conversations.
Asked whether he believed that Russia interfered in US presidential elections, Mattis said: “Right now, I would just say there’s very little doubt that they have either interfered or they have attempted to interfere in a number of elections in the democracies.”
He did not explicitly cite the US election.
Mattis, who has previously accused Russia of trying to break the Nato alliance, told a closed-door Nato session on Wednesday that it needed to be realistic about the chances of restoring a co-operative relationship with Moscow.
He cited Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, which plunged US-Russia relations to a post-Cold War low.
Mattis said that Nato needed “negotiate from a position of strength” as he called for stepped up military spending.
That prompted a terse reply from Russia’s Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu.
“Attempts to build a dialogue with Russia from a position of strength would be futile,” he was quoted as saying by TASS news agency.
Mattis shot back: “I have no need to respond to the Russian statement at all. Nato has always stood for military strength and protection of the democracies and the freedoms we intend to pass on to our children.”
The back-and-forth came even as US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met in Germany, and US Marine General Joseph Dunford, the top US military officer, met Chief of the Russian General Staff Valery Gerasimov in Azerbaijan.
Lavrov dismissed the uproar over the US election.
“You should know we do not interfere in the domestic matters of other countries,” he said.
Congressional inquiries into alleged Russian interference in the US elections are gaining momentum as Capitol Hill investigators press intelligence and law enforcement agencies for access to classified documents.
The FBI and several US intelligence agencies are investigating Russian espionage operations in the United States.
They are also looking at contacts in Russia between Russian intelligence officers or others with ties to Putin’s government and people connected to Trump or his campaign.
LEAVE A COMMENT Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked*
Neil Diamond reveals Parkinson’s, ends touring
Immigration in focus after shutdown crisis
Two students dead, 12 others wounded in Kentucky school shooting
'The Shape of Water' scores big with 13 Oscar nominations
Magnitude 7.9 quake off Alaska prompts tsunami warning
Hollywood set for Oscar noms in the year of #MeToo
Democrats set to vote to reopen US government
Highway 101 reopened as death toll from mudslides climbs to 21
Amazon to open first cashierless shop to public on Monday