The defense secretary also said that his department’s policies on Iran remain the same despite tougher Trump administration rhetoric.
The July 11 summit in Helsinki has not prompted any policy changes at the Pentagon, Defense Secretary James Mattis said Friday.
During an impromptu briefing at the Pentagon, Mattis said he wasn’t doing anything different in Syria in the wake of the meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“My job is to destroy ISIS and to make certain what we put in place [remains] and making sure the local security forces [are trained] so ISIS can’t get back in,” Mattis said.
Asked whether there was an agreement between Russia and the U.S. on humanitarian efforts in Syria, Mattis deferred to the State Department.
“What we’re trying to do in Syria is get this to the Geneva process…We are going to try to continue to work to get stability in Northeast Syria.” The fight against ISIS “is not over yet.”
Mattis said that he thought the direct meeting in Helsinki between Trump and Putin was healthy and productive for U.S.-Russian relations.
“I have always promoted the idea that we talk with [Russia] ... Even in the worst days of the Cold War, we had head-of-state-to-head-of-state discussions and I believe we have been way overdue for that,” he said. “I am all for reopening communications at the top line.”
Mattis said further that he was open to meeting with Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu, his equivalent in Russia.
“I am considering meeting with my counterpart, but there’s been no decision,” Mattishe said.
Mattis also said the Pentagon has not changed its posture toward Iran despite some Trump administration officials signaling a new, tougher policy.
“Nothing has changed for us. There’s no [new policy] that’s been instituted,” Mattis said, noting he was referring to “strictly military” policy, and would not speak about broader diplomatic efforts in the region.