U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis said on Monday there was no indication that Russia wanted a positive relationship with the United States, saying it had chosen to be a strategic competitor. “At this time … I do not see any indication that Mr. Putin would want a positive relationship with us. That is not to say we can’t get there as we look for common ground,” Mattis told a House Armed Services Committee hearing, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin. “But at this point, he has chosen to be competitive, a strategic competitor with us and we will have to deal with that as we see it,” he said. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, added that the United States had an adversarial relationship with Russia. Russia and the United States have a number of diverging interests, including in Syria.
Russia said on Saturday it had told the United States it was unacceptable for Washington to strike pro-government forces in Syria after the U.S. military carried out air strikes on pro-Syrian government militia. U.S. senators said on Monday they were close to an agreement on legislation imposing new sanctions on Russia, including a possible provision that would prevent the White House from easing sanctions without congressional approval.
Democrats and Republicans on the Foreign Relations and Banking Committees have been negotiating for about a week on an amendment to an Iran sanctions bill that also would impose sanctions to punish Russia over issues including its alleged meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region and support for the government of Syria in that country’s six-year-long civil war.