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U.S.-Russia tensions over Syria will not ‘spiral out of control’: Mattis

Tensions between the United States and Russia will not “spiral out of control” following last week’s U.S. cruise missile strikes on a Syrian air base, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on Tuesday.

President Donald Trump ordered the strikes after concluding that Syria waged a nerve gas attack in rebel-held territory.

Russia warned the U.S. strike could have serious consequences. Syria denies involvement. “It will not spiral out of control,” Mattis told reporters at the Pentagon. Mattis has repeatedly warned that the U.S. military remained ready to act again should Assad use chemical weapons, saying on Tuesday that Assad would “pay a very, very stiff price.” He acknowledged that Trump had only authorized the single attack.

Mattis also sought to downplay concerns about Pentagon mission creep. The incident has chilled U.S. relations with Moscow. After a presidential campaign during which Trump frequently called for an alliance with Russia to fight Islamic State militants. It has also led the Trump administration to harden its attitude against Assad. “I don’t see a peaceful, stable Syria in the future that has Assad in charge,” White House spokesman Sean Spicer said on Tuesday. U.S. intelligence indicates that Syrian Su-22 aircraft taking off from Shayrat airfield delivered the nerve agent sarin. Mattis said there was no doubt that Damascus was responsible. Mattis suggested the United States did not have firm evidence that Russia had foreknowledge or was complicit in the chemical attack. “It was very clear that the Assad regime planned it, orchestrated it and executed it.” We know what I just told you, we don’t know anything beyond that,” Mattis said, when asked whether Russia had a role.

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