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Report: Mattis open to meeting with Russian defense chief

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., Mar. 20, 2018. (U.S. Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith/Department of Defense)
July 18, 2018

U.S. officials have said that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is willing to have talks with U.S. and Russian defense chiefs to improve communications between the two nations.

It would be the first talks of their kind since 2015, Reuters reported exclusively this week. The possible meeting was one of the outcomes from the summit between President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, held on Monday in Helsinki.

The talks would take place between Mattis and his counterpart, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. It would mark a step in creating routine meetings among top-level officials of the two nations, and remedying the deteriorated relationship.

No details or plans of the meeting have been released. Two U.S. officials told Reuters anonymously that Mattis was open to the talks. The Pentagon declined to comment on the issue to Reuters.

Recent reports said that Shoigu had invited Mattis for talks, but Mattis turned down the invitation. However, the Pentagon denied the claims, saying no invitation had been received.

In June, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, who works under Mattis, spoke with his own Russian counterpart by phone and in person.

Mattis has been a vocal critic of Russia. Last year, he called out Russia as a menace to Europe.

“Despite Russia’s denials, we know they are seeking to redraw international borders by force,” Mattis said, according to The Washington Times.

He also said, “Have no doubt, The United States stands with Ukraine,” adding a warning that the U.S. would not accept Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

Mattis also mentioned agreements that Russia made in recent decades that they do not appear to be adhering to.

Likewise, Shoigu has been a vocal critic of the U.S.

Last week, he told an Italian newspaper that Russia would always confront America’s “neocolonialism strategy.”

“The issue at hand is the neocolonialist strategy, which the U.S. has already tested in Iraq and Libya and which boils down to supporting any, even the wildest ideologies to weaken legitimate governments,” Shoigu said.

He also said the U.S. had used this strategy to destabilize countries for economic benefit.

Derek Chollet, a former senior Pentagon official during the Obama Administration, predicted that talks between Mattis and Shoigu weren’t likely to be effective.

“Perhaps Mattis feels as though he has to test the proposition for himself, but I don’t hold out much hope that he’s going to get anywhere. If anything, he could expose himself as out of step with his boss,” Chollet said.

He added: “If he sends a tough message to the Russians, and they say: ‘that’s very interesting but your boss doesn’t agree,’ – then that’s going to be an interesting conversation.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also recently met with his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, while at the summit in Helsinki.

The meetings with Russian officials appear to be increasing as a result of President Trump’s desire for peaceful cooperation between the two nations.