Mattis: Putin 'responsible as head of state' for spy attack

Mattis: Putin 'responsible as head of state' for spy attack
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Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisNew Defense chief: Our 'priorities remain unchanged' The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump targets Iran with new sanctions Trump urged to quickly fill Pentagon post amid Iran tensions MORE on Tuesday called the poisoning of a former Russian spy on British soil "attempted murder," saying Russian President Vladimir Putin should be "responsible as the head of state."

Mattis was asked by reporters at the Pentagon how he would qualify Moscow’s actions surrounding the recent poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, with a military-grade nerve agent in Salisbury, England.

“Attempted murder of a man and his daughter, how’s that for starters?” Mattis replied.

Mattis said the "pretty obvious" Russian use of a chemical agent was deployed "for the first time in Europe since World War II."

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NATO earlier in the day said it was expelling seven diplomats from Russia's mission to the alliance and denying accreditation to three more as part of a coordinated effort with other countries to punish Moscow for the poisoning.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpNew EPA rule would expand Trump officials' powers to reject FOIA requests Democratic senator introduces bill to ban gun silencers Democrats: Ex-Commerce aide said Ross asked him to examine adding census citizenship question MORE on Monday moved to expel 60 Russian officials from the U.S. as part of the response, and 24 other countries are also expelling Russians. The United Kingdom already kicked out 23 Russian diplomats earlier this month.

Moscow denies the allegation that it conducted the attack.

When asked whether he thought Putin was aware of the effort to poison Skripal and his daughter, Mattis said he wouldn’t speculate on what the Russia president knew, but added “certainly he’s responsible as the head of state.”

Mattis also said that Russia "has the potential to be a partner with Europe," but instead has "chosen to seek a different relationship with the NATO nations."

"They’re doing things that they believe are deniable," Mattis said.

"They take the insignia off soldiers’ uniforms and they go into Crimea. ... They point out that they can’t be proven that they tried to kill the person in Salisbury. ... They’re trying to break the unity of the Western alliance, NATO."