This Could Be The First Big Sticking Point Between Mattis And Trump

REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst.

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Saagar Enjeti White House Correspondent
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White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s Monday indication that the Trump administration is open to working with Russia in Syria may put the White House in confrontation with Secretary of Defense James Mattis.

Spicer told reporters the U.S. would work with any nation that would align with the national interest of the U.S. — including Russia. Mattis indicated throughout his confirmation hearing that he saw only very narrow opportunities for military cooperation with Russia.

“Since Yalta, we have a long list of times we’ve tried to engage positively with Russia. We have a relatively short list of successes in that regard,” Mattis told senators at his confirmation hearing.

He continued, “The most important thing is that we recognize the reality of what we deal with Mr. Putin and we recognize that he is trying to break the North Atlantic alliance, and that we take the steps … to defend ourselves where we must.”

Russia, Turkey, and Iran are currently spearheading a peace process for the Syrian civil war in Kazakstan. The framework will likely include a political deal on splitting up the country into different zones of influence for sectarian groups, and include some sort of coalition that will go after Islamic terrorist organizations like ISIS.

Trump’s comments may echo his willingness to sign onto this peace framework, which would likely entail some military cooperation with Russia.

Military cooperation with Russia is prohibited under the 2014 National Defense Authorization act, and would require a waiver from the sitting secretary of defense.

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