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U.S. Defense Secretary Says Russia Must 'Prove Itself' Before NATO Ties Fully Restored

RFE/RL February 16, 2017

BRUSSELS -- U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis says Russia must "prove itself" before Moscow can return to "a partnership of sorts with NATO."

Mattis's remarks on February 16 at the end of a two-day NATO defense ministers meeting in Brussels are seen as easing fears in some European capitals that U.S. President Donald Trump's administration might relax U.S. pressure on Russia over its aggressive actions as part of an effort to build a closer relationship with Moscow.

Mattis said Russia "has to live by international law just like we expect all mature nations on this planet to do."

He noted that NATO political leaders will try to find common ground with Moscow but said "we are not in a position right now to collaborate on a military level."

NATO cut some military ties with Russia, but did not cut political ties with Moscow after Russia invaded and illegally annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014.

The alliance has held five NATO-Russia Councils, but little progress has been made in improving relations.

Mattis also spoke on February 16 about allegations that Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, and was now trying to interfere in the 2017 French presidential and German parliamentary elections -- saying "right now I would just say there is very little doubt that they have either interfered or they have attempted to interfere in a number of elections in democracies."

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said on February 16 that Russia is prepared to improve ties with the Pentagon, but said attempts by Washington to seek cooperation from a "position of strength would be futile."

With reporting by RFE/RL's Rikard Jozwiak in Brussels, Interfax, and TASS

Source: http://www.rferl.org/a/mattis-u-s-defense- russia-shoigu-nato/28313906.html

Copyright (c) 2017. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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