Secretary of Defense James Mattis has asserted that the U.S. will not cooperate militarily with Russia until it complies with international law and that he believes the Kremlin had interfered in the 2016 presidential election.
Both statements contradict President Donald Trump's takes on Russia, signaling a split in policy perspective between the commander-in-chief and one of his key Cabinet members.
On Feb. 16, Mattis gathered with NATO defense officials for a press conference in Brussels. During his remarks, the defense secretary said that the U.S. would not work with the Russian military until they honor international agreements, Vox reports.
"They have to live by international law, just like we expect all mature nations on this planet to do," Mattis said of Russia.
"We are not in a position right now to collaborate on a military level, but our political leaders will engage and try to find common ground, or a way forward ... Russia is going to have to prove itself first, and live up to its commitments they have made in the Russia-NATO agreement," the defense secretary added.
In August 2016, Trump had proposed during a foreign policy address that his administration would work with any country interested in eradicating the Islamic State group (ISIS) and other terrorist organizations. He added that this policy would extend toward Russia, according to USA Today.
"Wouldn't that be a good thing?" Trump said of collaborating with Russia to fight ISIS in the Middle East.
Mattis also signaled that he agreed with the U.S. intelligence community assessment that Russia had hacked and then leaked documents from both the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's campaign in order to meddle with the 2016 presidential election.
"Right now, I would just say there's very little doubt that they have interfered or attempted to interfere in a number of elections in the democracies," Mattis said.
That same morning, Trump took to social media to accuse the Democratic Party of fabricating the intelligence community's conclusion that Russia had interfered in the election.
"The Democrats had to come up with a story as to why they lost the election... so they made up a story -- Russia!" Trump tweeted out. "Fake news!"
While Trump has called for closer relations between the U.S. and Russia, Mattis has recently described Russian President Vladimir Putin's government as a major threat to America.
On Jan. 12, Mattis asserted during his congressional confirmation hearing that Putin was attempting to break the NATO alliance, CBS News reports.
"I'm all for engagement but we also have to recognize reality and what Russia is up to. ... I have very modest expectations about areas of cooperation with Mr. Putin," Mattis said.