Defense Secretary James Mattis says the resignation of Michael Flynn as national security adviser will have “no impact” on his trip to NATO this week.
"Frankly, this has no impact,” Mattis told reporters traveling with him to Brussels on Tuesday, according to multiple reports. “Obviously, I haven't changed what I'm heading there for. It doesn't change my message at all."
"And who's on the president's staff is who I will work with," he said.
Flynn resigned late Monday after it was revealed he communicated with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. about sanctions prior to Trump's inauguration and misled top White House officials about the content of the conversations.
President Trump’s overtures to Russia have rattled NATO allies, who have been worried about Russia’s increasing aggression in Eastern Europe. Flynn was one of the Trump administration’s top proponents of warmer relations with Russia.
But Mattis, whose resume includes a stint as NATO’s supreme allied commander of transformation, has continued to warn of Russian aggression. In his confirmation hearing, Mattis placed Russia as the top threat to the United States and said Moscow is trying to “break” NATO.
Mattis’s debut trip to NATO as Defense secretary is being closely watched as he’s expected to reassure allies shaken by Trump’s campaign comments.
In a press conference previewing the defense ministers’ meeting, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Tuesday top topics will include defense spending and terrorism.
Mattis said Tuesday that NATO needs to further adapt to challenges posed by Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and backing of separatists elsewhere in eastern Ukraine.
"2014 was a watershed year,” Mattis told reporters, according to Reuters. “It was a year when many of our hopes for some kind of partnership with Russia were shown to be unavailing.”
"We've got to adapt and make certain that the trans-Atlantic bond remains strong," he added.