THE PENTAGON: U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on Friday he was open to the possibility of sitting down for talks with his Russian counterparts, but so far there’s nothing nailed down.
“I am considering meeting with my counterpart, but there’s been no decision,” Mattis told reporters at a small, off-camera talk at the Pentagon.
“I’m all for re-opening communications” with Russia, given the right circumstances, he said. “It’s most important that we talk with those countries we have the largest disagreements with.”
The defense secretary’s comments came the same day Russian President Vladimir Putin said he was willing to have another round of talks with president Trump, and invited him to Moscow despite earlier demurring on Trump’s suggestion that he come to Washington. The White House said that president Trump is looking forward to Putin’s potential visit to Washington early next year.
There has been no contact between the U.S. Defense Secretary and the Russian defense minister since 2015, months after Russia invaded Ukraine and annexed Crimea, leading to international condemnation and waves of sanctions being slapped on Russian officials and oligarchs close to Putin.
Despite widespread confusion over what the two leaders discussed during one-on-one meeting in Helsinki earlier this month, Mattis said Friday that there have been no changes to U.S. policy as a result of the summit.
“I talked immediately after the Helsinki summit” with White House chief of staff John Kelly and national security adviser John Bolton, Mattis said. “There have been no policy changes that have come out of it.”
Earlier this week, Mattis said that there are no plans for U.S. forces to work with Russian troops in Syria, despite Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s statement that cooperation in Syria was one of the topics Trump and Putin spoke about in Helsinki.
“We will not be doing anything additional until the Secretary of State and the president have further figured out at what point we are going to start working, alongside our allies, with Russia in the future,” Mattis said at a press conference in California.
Russian officials have said repeatedly over the past week that agreements were reached during the meeting, but have been vague as to what those might be.
In what might be a rare bit of good news for U.S. / Turkey relations and the worry over the fate of Turkish participation in the F-35 program, Mattis said from his perspective, the relationship was on track. “We’ve had no problem military-to-military with Turkey and we continue to work with the NATO allies,” he said.