No danger of conflict with Russia: Mattis

Defence Secretary Jim Mattis speaks during a news conference at the Pentagon.  

Tensions between Russia and the U.S would not spiral out of control, said U.S Defence Secretary James Mattis, even as both countries continue to exchange barbs on their involvement in the Syrian civil war.

Responding to a question about the danger of their antagonistic positions related to Syria spiraling into “a conflict between two nuclear-powered countries,” Mr. Mattis said during a briefing at the Pentagon: “It will not spiral out of control. As you know, Secretary of State Tillerson is in Moscow. We maintain communications with the Russian military and with the diplomatic channels. It will not spiral out of control.”

Mr. Mattis reiterated that the U.S would strike against the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria again if it used chemical weapons against rebels. Russia has said another strike on the regime would not be acceptable to it. Asked how he was so confident that these positions would not escalate into a conflict between the two countries, Mr. Mattis said: “Well, I'm confident the Russians will act in their own best interests, and there's nothing in their best interests to say they want this situation to go out of control.”

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump told a TV channel that the U.S had no intention to involve more deeply in the Syrian civil war, indicating that the missile strike was a specific response to the chemical weapons attack on April 4. "We're not going into Syria," Mr. Trump said in the interview. "But when I see people using horrible, horrible chemical weapons, which they agreed not to use under the Obama administration, but they violated it,” he said, explaining the strike.

Mr. Mattis also emphasized that the strike against the regime does not signal a change in the U.S policy of viewing Islamic State as the primary enemy in Syria. “Our military policy in Syria has not changed. Our priority remains the defeat of ISIS. ISIS represents a clear and present danger, an immediate threat to Europe and ultimately, a threat to the United States homeland,” the Secretary of Defence said, adding that the Assad regime “should think long and hard before it again acts so recklessly in violation of international law against the use of chemical weapons.”

The President and Mr. Mattis appeared eager to underscore that they had no desire to get more involved in Syria amid conflicting signals from within the administration on the future course of action. The hawks in the Republican Party may not be content with that. Senator John McCain has said the missile strike could “only be the beginning.” On the question of pushing for the ouster of Assad, there have been conflicting statements from senior administration officials. The Obama administration too had maintained that there could be no resolution to the Syrian crisis with Mr. Assad in power, but refused to militarily intervene to achieve that objective. The President and the Secretary of Defence appear to be keen to stick to that position .

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Printable version | Apr 12, 2021 8:25:32 PM |

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