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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 15 November 2018

Mattis calls Iran strikes report fiction, denies policy changes on Russia

US defence chief's comments followed a White House 'principals meeting' on Iran

Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, speaks to reporters at the Pentagon, Friday, July 27, 2018.  (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, speaks to reporters at the Pentagon, Friday, July 27, 2018.  (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

US Secretary of Defence James Mattis dismissed on Friday an Australian report alleging that the Trump administration is prepared to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities as soon as August, while also reiterating that there are "no policy changes" with Russia following the Helsinki summit.

Mr Mattis, speaking to reporters at the Pentagon on Friday, poured cold water on a news report by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) quoting Australian government sources who “believe the United States is prepared to bomb Iran's nuclear facilities, perhaps as early as next month, and that Australia is poised to help identify possible targets.” Mr Mattis called it "fiction" and not something that's on the table.

"I have no idea where the Australian news people got that ... I am confident it is not something that is being considered right now...frankly it's fiction as best I can give you," he said.

The ABC report claimed "Australian defence facilities would likely play a role in identifying targets in Iran, as would British intelligence agencies" noting the omission of Canada and New Zealand – two smaller members of the so called "Five Eyes" intelligence sharing countries.

Mr Mattis's comments followed a "principals meeting" at the White House on Iran, chaired by US national security adviser John Bolton and attended by senior cabinet members and military commanders. Mr Mattis, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford were among those who attended the meeting on Thursday. The focus was addressing a comprehensive strategy on Iran ahead of the re-imposition US sanctions on Iran on August 6.

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Another NSC meeting on "election security" was scheduled for Friday. Asked about US counter measures to Russian interference Mr Mattis said: "I am not at liberty to explain what we are doing in that regard. Just rest assured there are actions under way to protect our elections or to expose any external by anybody, external efforts to influence the American public."

The Daily Beast reported on Thursday, that Russian hackers have unsuccessfully tried to hack the computers of Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill, ahead of midterm elections this November.

Mr Mattis also denied any policy changes with respect to coordinating with Russia on Syria. He said there are "no policy changes”, and that Donald Trump did not ask for such requests after Helsinki.

US senior officials including Mr Pompeo, Mr Mattis and head of Central Command General Joseph Votel have all denied a shift in policy or the existence of defence agreements with Moscow following the Trump-Putin summit.

A US official speaking on condition of anonymity told The National last week that "nothing of substance has changed from what it was before the meeting". He argued that, Mr Trump’s rhetoric aside, the policy trajectory for Washington remained the same the day after Helsinki.