Defense secretary open to talks with Russian counterpart

US Secretary of Defense James Mattis is open to talks with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Shoigu, but there are currently no plans for such a conversation, a US defense official tells CNN.

Earlier on Tuesday, a spokesman for the Russian Ministry of Defense said his country was ready for the “implementation of the agreements reached between Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Donald Trump” following the two leaders’ meeting Monday in Helsinki, Finland.

The Russian military “is ready to intensify contacts with the US colleagues in the General Staff and other available channels to discuss the extension of the START treaty, cooperation in Syria, as well as other issues of ensuring military security,” spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said.

Prior to the Trump-Putin meeting a Pentagon spokesman had denied a claim by Shoigu that he had invited Mattis for talks but had been turned down.

“We have not received an invitation from Minister Shoigu requesting to meet with Secretary Mattis,” Defense Department spokesman Eric Pahon told CNN last week.

Mattis has been the Trump administration’s most consistent and harshest critic of Russia, accusing Moscow last month of seeking to shatter NATO and “undermine America’s moral authority”

Talks between a US defense secretary and his Russian counterpart have not taken place since 2015.

High-level talks between the US and Russian militaries are currently conducted by Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and his Russian counterpart, Gen. Valery Gerasimov. The two generals last spoke on the phone on June 14, a week after an in-person meeting in Helsinki, Finland.

While their governments have fraught ties, the two military chiefs have developed a quiet relationship to ensure military relations remain as stable as possible. They often discuss not only bilateral relations but also operations in Syria, where the two sides often operate in close proximity and deconfliction measures are maintained.

In response to the 2014 Russian military incursion in Ukraine and its seizure of Crimea, Congress prohibited “any bilateral military-to-military cooperation” with Russia in its passage of the National Defense Authorization Act.

Reuters was first to report Mattis’ willingness to talk to his Russian counterpart.