Mattis doesn't mention Russia by name at meeting with Balkan officials: report

Mattis doesn't mention Russia by name at meeting with Balkan officials: report
© Greg Nash

Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisOvernight Defense: Pompeo creates 'action group' for Iran policy | Trump escalates intel feud | Report pegs military parade cost at M Mattis aide tapped to lead Southern Command State Dept. alarmed about Russian satellite's ‘abnormal behavior’ MORE on Friday met with his Balkan counterparts, but did not mention Russia by name while journalists were present, Reuters reported.

“We are not naive and we are keenly aware that some elsewhere would wish to see us fail in our endeavors here today,” Mattis said in his opening remarks at the meeting in Croatia, before reporters were escorted out. “Those that seek to divide us for their own reasons will not enjoy our dedication to working together.”

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The talks come days before a planned one-on-one meeting between President TrumpDonald John TrumpNFL players stand in tunnel during anthem, extending protests 12 former top intel officials blast Trump's move to revoke Brennan's security clearance NYT: Omarosa believed to have as many as 200 tapes MORE and Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday in Helsinki.

U.S. allies, and some lawmakers on Capitol Hill, have called for Trump to cancel the sit-down amid fears that the president could agree to concessions as part of the talks.

Those calls were intensified Friday after 12 Russian intelligence officers were indicted in the 2016 hacking of the Democratic National Committee (DNC).

Before the indictments, Trump had said the meetings could be an opportunity to reduce tensions, calling Putin a “competitor” and “not my enemy” at the NATO summit on Thursday.

In Croatia, Mattis met with Balkan defense leaders who say Russia is attempting to upset stability and divide neighboring nations.

Montenegro, which joined NATO last year, chairs the group of Balkan leaders.

The defense chief from Macedonia was also in attendance; the country was formally invited by NATO this week to start accession talks. Russia has opposed the expansion to include Macedonia, with Moscow officials saying the nation could become “a legitimate target” if relations between NATO and Russia further fall apart.