Mattis: Russia wants no ‘positive relationship’ with US

Defense Secretary James Mattis told lawmakers late Monday that Russia has chosen to be a “strategic competitor” with the United States and that there is no indication Moscow wants a positive relationship with America.

“At this time … I do not see any indication that [Russian President Vladimir Putin] would want a positive relationship with us,” Mattis told the House Armed Services Committee.

“That’s not to say we can’t get there as we look for common ground. But at this point, he has chosen to be a strategic competitor with us and we’ll have to deal with that as we see it,” he added.

Mattis was responding to a question by Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), who had asked him if Putin had any real interest in a “mutually beneficial, good-faith partnership with the United States,” following its “seemingly relentless … provocative vocations.”

{mosads}Moscow has in recent months increased the number of fighter jet and long-range bomber aircraft flights in the international airspace near Alaska, and last week a Russian fighter jet intercepted a U.S. B-52 bomber flying near the country’s border over the international waters of the Baltic Sea.

The Kremlin also backs Syrian President Bashar Assad and has demanded the United States not attack forces that support Assad as a U.S.-led coalition attempts to oust Islamic State in Iraq and Syria fighters. Russia even established four de-escalation zones in Syria and has asserted the coalition stay out of it.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford, who spoke alongside Mattis Monday evening, said the United States has a “competitive adversarial relationship with Russia.”

The comments come as Committee ranking member Adam Smith (D-Wash.) is set to unveil a new bill meant to force the White House to create a comprehensive policy to deter Russian aggression.

The bill, which Smith hopes to fold into the upcoming annual defense policy bill, is the latest attempt to force President Trump’s hand on Russia, with which he has expressed a desire to improve relations even as his campaign team continues to be investigated for possible collusion to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.

On the Senate side, lawmakers Monday night reached a bipartisan agreement to impose new financial penalties on Russia and limit Trump’s ability to lift sanctions without giving Congress a chance to weigh in.

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