BRUSSELS, Feb 16 (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump's defense secretary on Thursday said he did not see the conditions for military collaboration with Russia, in a blow to Moscow's hopes for repairing ties with the United States following Trump's election.
"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," Jim Mattis told reporters after talks at NATO headquarters in Brussels.
Asked whether he believed that Russia interfered in U.S. presidential elections, Mattis said: "Right now, I would just say there's very little doubt that they have either interfered or they have attempted to interfere in a number of elections in the democracies."
RELATED: 19 memorable quotes from James 'Mad Dog' Mattis
19 memorable quotes from James 'Mad Dog' Mattis
19 memorable quotes from James 'Mad Dog' Mattis
"You cannot allow any of your people to avoid the brutal facts. If they start living in a dream world, it's going to be bad."
Mattis has often talked to Marine leaders about staying sharp.
The "dream world" he mentioned is a reference to a complacent attitude, and it's one that can cost lives if troops aren't vigilant.
(Photo by Allison Shelley/Getty Images)
"If in order to kill the enemy you have to kill an innocent, don't take the shot. Don't create more enemies than you take out by some immoral act."
As a coauthor of the military's counterinsurgency manual (with retired Army Gen. David Petraeus), Mattis has often spoken about following the rules of engagement and being disciplined against a ruthless enemy.
"I come in peace. I didn't bring artillery. But I'm pleading with you, with tears in my eyes: If you f*** with me, I'll kill you all."
After the initial Iraq invasion, "Chaos" (his radio call sign) sent home his tanks and artillery and used the "carrot and the stick" with Iraqi tribal leaders.
(Photo by Mark Boster/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
"The first time you blow someone away is not an insignificant event. That said, there are some a--holes in the world that just need to be shot. There are hunters and there are victims. By your discipline, you will decide if you are a hunter or a victim."
Addressing his Marines at an air base in Iraq, he tried to motivate them to stay sharp and continue the mission.
He ended the speech, telling them in Patton-esque fashion, "I feel sorry for every son of a b**** that doesn't get to serve with you."
(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
"Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet."
One of his "words to live by" for his Marines in Iraq, which was a call for his troops to remain vigilant and never let their guard down even in the company of those who seem friendly.
In a country where insurgents would blend into the local populace with ease, it was good advice.
(Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
"We've backed off in good faith to try and give you a chance to straighten this problem out. But I am going to beg with you for a minute. I'm going to plead with you, do not cross us. Because if you do, the survivors will write about what we do here for 10,000 years."
Mattis demonstrates that he is willing to extend an olive branch to those on the fence — while carrying the weight of Marine firepower if that doesn't work out.
This quote is often shared among Mattis fans for its almost Spartan-like delivery.
( CHRIS KLEPONIS/AFP/Getty Images)
"I don't lose any sleep at night over the potential for failure. I cannot even spell the word."
The general has always been confident in his abilities and that of his Marines.
He led the 1st Marine Expeditionary Brigade into Afghanistan in 2001 and the 1st Marine Division into Iraq in 2003, and he led an operation into Fallujah in 2004 dubbed "Operation Vigilant Resolve." He also helped to plan the later "Operation Phantom Fury."
His success in battle and strategic genius has earned him an almost godlike status among Marines.
(Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
"A country that armed Stalin to defeat Hitler can certainly work alongside enemies of Al Qaeda to defeat Al Qaeda."
The general is a student of history and an avid reader.
He often stresses the importance of education and training on building effective future leaders.
(Photo by Bryan Steffy/Getty Images for DIRECTV)
"You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn't wear a veil. You know, guys like that ain't got no manhood left anyway. So it's a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them. Actually it's quite fun to fight them, you know. It's a hell of a hoot. It's fun to shoot some people. I'll be right up there with you. I like brawling."
Some Mattis quotes don't come without a degree of controversy, including this one.
Mattis said this while speaking about his time on the ground in Afghanistan, but he was later counseled by his boss, Marine Commandant Gen. Michael Hagee, who said "he should have chosen his words more carefully."
"In this age, I don't care how tactically or operationally brilliant you are, if you cannot create harmony — even vicious harmony — on the battlefield based on trust across service lines, across coalition and national lines, and across civilian/military lines, you need to go home, because your leadership is obsolete. We have got to have officers who can create harmony across all those lines."
Mattis wants educated leaders who can both be book smart and be able to get the job done.
REUTERS/Jim Hollander CLH/
"Find the enemy that wants to end this experiment (in American democracy) and kill every one of them until they're so sick of the killing that they leave us and our freedoms intact."
Mattis believes the battlefield is better off being far from American shores.
(Photo by Rick Loomis/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
"Treachery has existed as long as there's been warfare, and there's always been a few people that you couldn't trust."
In places such as Iraq and Afghanistan, alliances can often shift quickly.
Mattis spoke with Congress on this point after a series of so-called green-on-blue attacks that left military leaders struggling to find a solution.
(Photo credit should read ANTONIO SCORZA/AFP/Getty Images)
"Fight with a happy heart."
Before heading into Iraq in 2003, all Marines of the 1st Marine Division received a letter from General Mattis.
In the letter, he spoke candidly to his troops, telling them "we will move swiftly and aggressively against those who resist, we will treat others with decency, demonstrating chivalry and soldierly compassion for people who have endured a lifetime under Saddam's oppression."
AFP PHOTO/ Chris KLEPONIS (Photo credit should read CHRIS KLEPONIS/AFP/Getty Images)
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Mattis' remarks came shortly after his Russian counterpart, Sergei Shoigu expressed readiness to resume cooperation with the Pentagon and the same day Russian President Vladimir Putin said it was in the interests of both nations to restore communications between their intelligence agencies.
"It's in everyone's interest to resume dialog between the intelligence agencies of the United States and other members of NATO," Putin said, addressing Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB).
"It's absolutely clear that in the area of counter-terrorism all relevant governments and international groups should work together."
Mattis told a closed-door session of NATO on Wednesday that the alliance needed to be realistic about the chances of restoring a cooperative relationship with Moscow and ensure its diplomats could "negotiate from a position of strength."
That prompted a terse reply from Russia's Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.
"Attempts to build a dialog with Russia from a position of strength would be futile," Shoigu was quoted as saying by news agency TASS.
Mattis shot back: "I have no need to respond to the Russian statement at all. NATO has always stood for military strength and protection of the democracies and the freedoms we intend to pass on to our children."
The back-and-forth was the latest indication from the Trump administration that rebuilding U.S. ties with Moscow could be more difficult than Trump might have thought before his election.
U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that Russia hacked and leaked Democratic emails during the presidential campaign as part of efforts to tilt the vote in the Nov. 8 election in Trump's favor.
Concerns over the extent of Russian interference have been magnified since Trump forced out national security adviser, Michael Flynn, on Monday.
RELATED: The most powerful US military photos from 2016
The best US military photos from 2016
The best US military photos from 2016
An Air Force F-22 Raptor flies over the Arabian Sea to support Operation Inherent Resolve, January 27, 2016.
(Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Corey Hook)
Marine Corps Sgt. Josh Greathouse scans the area during a perimeter patrol in Taqaddum, Iraq, March 21, 2016. Greathouse is a team leader assigned to Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force Crisis Response, for US Central Command.
(Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Rick Hurtado)
Navy Seaman Fabian Soltero looks through shipboard binoculars aboard the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower in the Atlantic Ocean, March 25, 2016.
(Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Taylor L. Jackson)
USS Bulkeley receives fuel and cargo from dry cargo/ammunition ship USNS Medgar Evers during a replenishment at sea in the Persian Gulf, February 25, 2016. The guided-missile destroyer was supporting Operation Inherent Resolve, maritime security operations, and theater security cooperation efforts in the US 5th Fleet area of operations.
(Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael J. Lieberknec)
Navy Seaman Brice Scraper, top, and Petty Officer 2nd Class Alex Miller verify the serial number of a training missile on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan in the Philippine Sea, October 5, 2016. The Reagan was supporting security and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.
(Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Nathan Burke)
Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Brianna Caballero maneuvers a harbor patrol boat to load it onto a trailer for maintenance on Naval Support Activity Bahrain, January 6, 2016.
(Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Gary Granger Jr.)
Soldiers offload equipment and supplies from a CH-47F Chinook helicopter after landing on Kahiltna Glacier in Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska, April 24, 2016. At 17,400 feet, Mount Foraker towers above.Air Force Maj. Steve Briones and 1st Lt. Andrew Kim fly a KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft over Turkey, January 6, 2016. Coalition forces fly daily missions to support Operation Inherent Resolve.Members of the visit, board, search, and seizure team for the guided-missile destroyer USS Gonzalez operate a rigid-hull inflatable boat in the Gulf of Aden, April 26, 2016. The Gonzalez was supporting Operation Inherent Resolve, maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the US 5th Fleet area of operations.
(Army photo by John Pennell)
Air Force Maj. Steve Briones and 1st Lt. Andrew Kim fly a KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft over Turkey, January 6, 2016. Coalition forces fly daily missions to support Operation Inherent Resolve.Members of the visit, board, search, and seizure team for the guided-missile destroyer USS Gonzalez operate a rigid-hull inflatable boat in the Gulf of Aden, April 26, 2016. The Gonzalez was supporting Operation Inherent Resolve, maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the US 5th Fleet area of operations.
(Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Corey Hook)
Members of the visit, board, search, and seizure team for the guided-missile destroyer USS Gonzalez operate a rigid-hull inflatable boat in the Gulf of Aden, April 26, 2016. The Gonzalez was supporting Operation Inherent Resolve, maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the US 5th Fleet area of operations.Air Force Maj. Steve Briones and 1st Lt. Andrew Kim fly a KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft over Turkey, January 6, 2016. Coalition forces fly daily missions to support Operation Inherent Resolve.Soldiers offload equipment and supplies from a CH-47F Chinook helicopter after landing on Kahiltna Glacier in Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska, April 24, 2016. At 17,400 feet, Mount Foraker towers above.
(Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Pasquale Sena)
Sailors move a T-45C Goshawk aircraft on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower in the Atlantic Ocean, February 5, 2016. The Eisenhower was preparing for inspections and conducting carrier qualifications.
(Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Anderson W. Branch)
The guided-missile destroyer USS Carney breaks away from the fleet-replenishment oiler USNS Big Horn after a replenishment at sea in the Mediterranean Sea, August 14, 2016. The Carney was patrolling in the US 6th Fleet area of responsibility to support US national-security interests in Europe.
(Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Weston Jones)
A Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey aircraft prepares for takeoff from the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer in the Pacific Ocean, August 26, 2016.
(Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Michael T. Eckelbecker)
Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Kristen Neufeld performs maintenance on a Mark 38-25 mm machine gun aboard the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson at its home port in San Diego, August 18, 2016.
(Navy photo by Seaman Theo Shively)
Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Brian Evans repairs an antenna system during a replenishment at sea involving the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, the guided-missile cruiser USS Monterey, and the Military Sealift Command combat support ship USNS Arctic in the Persian Gulf, September 2, 2016.
(Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Nathan T. Beard)
Sailors aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS Ross move ropes during a sea-and-anchor detail near Aksav, Turkey, January 7, 2016. The Ross was conducting a routine patrol in the US 6th Fleet area of operations to support US national-security interests in Europe.
(Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Justin Stumberg)
Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Trevor Ellam signals to the fleet-replenishment oiler USNS Laramie from aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS Stout during a replenishment at sea in the Persian Gulf, October 14, 2016. Ellam is a boatswain’s mate. The Stout was supporting security efforts in the US 5th Fleet area of operations.
(Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Bill Dodge)
Marines depart a CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter aboard the amphibious-assault ship USS Makin Island in the Pacific Ocean, October 22, 2016. The Makin Island was supporting the Navy’s maritime strategy in the US 3rd Fleet area of responsibility. The helicopter is assigned to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 163.
(Navy photo by Seaman Devin M. Langer)
Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Matthew Fulks motions to crew members on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis in the Philippine Sea, February 24, 2016. The Stennis provides a ready force to support security and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.
(Navy photo by Seaman Cole C. Pielop)
The guided-missile destroyer USS Lassen patrols the eastern Pacific Ocean, March 10, 2016. The Lassen was supporting Operation Martillo with the US Coast Guard and partner nations within the US 4th Fleet area of responsibility.
(Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Huey D. Younger Jr.)
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Flynn resigned after disclosures he had discussed U.S. sanctions on Russia with the Russian ambassador to the United States before Trump took office, and that he later misled Vice President Mike Pence about the conversations.
Congressional inquiries into alleged Russian interference in the U.S. elections are gaining momentum as Capitol Hill investigators press intelligence and law enforcement agencies for access to classified documents.
The FBI and several U.S. intelligence agencies are investigating Russian espionage operations in the United States.
They are also looking at contacts in Russia between Russian intelligence officers or others with ties to President Vladimir Putin's government and people connected to Trump or his campaign.