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U.S. defence chief says ‘very little doubt’ Russia interfered with US election

Click to play video: 'U.S. defence chief says very little doubt Russia interfered in a number of elections' U.S. defence chief says very little doubt Russia interfered in a number of elections
WATCH ABOVE: President Trump's defence chief says there is very little doubt Russia interfered in a number of elections – Feb 16, 2017

BRUSSELS (AP) — The U.S. is not ready to collaborate militarily with Russia, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Thursday, appearing to close the door for now on any effort to work more closely with Moscow in the fight against Islamic State militants in Syria.

His blunt rejection came after Russian President Vladimir Putin called for increased intelligence cooperation with the U.S. and NATO, and it makes such coordination less likely at least in the near future. Mattis followed his dismissal with a sharp assessment of Russia’s alleged election meddling, saying there is “very little doubt that they have either interfered or they have attempted to interfere in a number of elections in the democracies.”

READ MORE: Constant crises leaving Trump administration nearly paralyzed in opening days

His comments raised questions about the Trump administration’s policies on Russia. As a candidate, President Donald Trump repeatedly praised Putin, saying he wanted a new era of cooperation with Moscow.

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WATCH: A compilation of President Donald Trump’s statements on his relationship with Russia and Vladimir Putin, from early on in his election campaign to his latest press conference.
Click to play video: 'Donald Trump on Russia: from the campaign to now' Donald Trump on Russia: from the campaign to now
Donald Trump on Russia: from the campaign to now – Feb 16, 2017

Speaking at a meeting of NATO defense ministers, Mattis said the U.S. will continue to engage politically with Putin’s government to try to find common ground.

Political leaders, Mattis said, will seek “a way forward where Russia, living up to its commitments, will return to a partnership of sorts here with NATO. But Russia is going to have to prove itself first.”

READ MORE: Trump’s people were in constant contact with Russians during campaign: reports

The U.S. ceased military to military relations with Russia in the wake of Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region. But last year, the Obama administration considered plans to cooperate militarily with Russia as part of a cease-fire deal in Syria.

Senior Defense Department leaders opposed the plan, and it quickly fell apart as the cease fire collapsed.

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WATCH: Trump shouldn’t have ability to lift Russian sanctions: U.S. lawmakers

Click to play video: 'Trump shouldn’t have ability to lift Russian sanctions: U.S. lawmakers' Trump shouldn’t have ability to lift Russian sanctions: U.S. lawmakers
Trump shouldn’t have ability to lift Russian sanctions: U.S. lawmakers – Feb 15, 2017

Also Thursday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in the highest-level face-to-face contact between the two countries since Trump took office. Lavrov was asked if Russia is concerned about turmoil in the Trump administration. He repeated Moscow’s standard line that Russia “does not interfere in the domestic matters of other countries.”

Tillerson did not speak at the meeting on the sidelines of a conference of foreign ministers of Group of 20 major powers in Bonn, Germany.

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