US & Canada

Trump top nominees Pompeo and Mattis warn of Russia threat

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Media captionAre Trump's nominees on the same page on Russia as their boss?

President-elect Donald Trump's nominees for defence secretary and spy chief have been taking aim at Russia during their Senate confirmation hearings.

General James Mattis, defence secretary nominee, warned Nato was under its biggest attack since World War Two.

Mike Pompeo, Mr Trump's pick to lead the CIA, said Moscow posed a threat in Europe and was "asserting itself aggressively" in Ukraine.

The tough talk follows Mr Trump's call for warmer relations with Moscow.

Mr Mattis, a retired general and Mr Trump's pick for Pentagon chief, said Russian President Vladimir Putin was trying to divide Nato nations.

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Media captionGen Mattis: Putin is trying to break Nato

"I think right now the most important thing is that we recognise the reality of what we deal with with Mr Putin," he told the Armed Services Committee.

"And we recognise that he is trying to break the North Atlantic alliance and that we take the steps... to defend ourselves where we must.

"I think it's under the biggest attack since World War II, sir, and that's from Russia, from terrorist groups and with what China is doing in the South China Sea."

The former four-star Marine general has described Nato as the most successful military alliance in modern history, clashing with Mr Trump's comments undercutting the almost 70-year-old organisation.

General Mattis also gave his support to the intelligence community, saying he had a "very, very high degree of confidence" in them despite the president-elect's recent doubts over their assessments.

Tension with Trump on Russia? - Anthony Zurcher, BBC North America Reporter

On Wednesday, during a contentious press conference in which Donald Trump was repeatedly pressed about his views on Russia, the president-elect asserted that a friendly relation with Vladimir Putin would be an asset, not a liability.

The following morning, several of Mr Trump's key appointments took a sharper line with congressional committees reviewing their nominations.

James Mattis, up for defence secretary, put Russia at the top of his "principal threat" list.

Congressman Mike Pompeo, who Mr Trump has tapped to be director of the CIA, called Russian attempts to influence the US 2016 presidential election an "aggressive action".

Mr Pompeo added that Russia was "doing nothing to aid in the destruction and defeat" of the so-called Islamic State - a position that stands in stark contrast to Mr Trump's view that the Russia could be an ally in the Middle East.

While these views could reflect the nominees' desire to court favour from congressional Russia hawks whose votes could be essential to their confirmation, it may also set up tension between Mr Trump and his top advisers in the days and months ahead.

Mr Pompeo, Mr Trump's choice for CIA director, faced questions over the president-elect's rift with the US intelligence community.

He told the Intelligence Committee he had "every confidence" in the US intelligence services.

Their assessment that state-directed Russian hackers meddled in the US election was "sound", he added.

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Media captionRex Tillerson: What Trump's top diplomat really believes

The conservative Kansas Republican was quick to criticise Moscow for invading and occupying Ukraine, threatening Europe and "doing nearly nothing" to destroy the so-called Islamic State.

But when asked what was the greatest security threat to the US, he cited terrorism foremost and lumped Russia in behind North Korea and China.

Mr Pompeo, who previously said the CIA's post-9/11 interrogation practices were lawful, was questioned about that issue, too.

He affirmed he would support the statement that "the CIA is out of the enhanced interrogation" business.

Rex Tillerson, Mr Trump's choice for secretary of state, was less hawkish on Russia when he was grilled by the Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday.

Image copyright Pew Research Center

The former chief executive of Exxon Mobil declined to label President Putin a war criminal for his actions in Syria and elsewhere when pressed to do so by Florida senator Marco Rubio.

Mr Tillerson did side, however, with the US intelligence assessment that Mr Putin probably directed the hacks on the US Democratic party.

If confirmed as Pentagon boss, Mr Mattis, nicknamed Mad Dog, would be the first career military officer to serve as secretary of defence in more than 50 years.

Who is General 'Mad Dog' Mattis?

The committee voted 24-3 to approve a congressional waiver to allow him to serve in the post.

A retired former military staff must spend a minimum of seven years out of office before they can run the Pentagon. Mr Mattis has only been retired for three years.

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