November 2016 – WASHINGTON/MOSCOW – Sen. Tom Cotton, being considered by President-elect Donald Trump as a possible choice for defense secretary, on Thursday called for continued U.S. support of NATO and labeled Russian President Vladimir Putin an “adversary” in remarks that may put him at odds with the incoming commander-in-chief. Two days after Trump and Putin talked on the telephone about greater cooperation, Cotton, an Arkansas Republican and former 101st Airborne Division platoon leader in Iraq, said, “To improve our relations with Russia, what needs to happen foremost is Vladimir Putin needs to have a new set of boundaries,” an apparent reference to Russian expansionism in Crimea and Ukraine.
“It would be good, of course, if we had a better relationship with our adversaries,” Cotton said, but Putin will first “have to recognize that we are going to stand by our alliance structures.” He called on Russia to exhibit a “sense of reality” about U.S. support for NATO and understand that the alliance was “not a threat to Russia.” In numerous congressional hearings, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford have also called Russia an “adversary” and the No. 1 threat to the U.S. Cotton, who met with Trump on Tuesday in New York, was responding to questions including whether the Trump administration would lift sanctions on Russia at the fourth annual Defense One summit on national security issues in Washington, D.C.
Trump and Putin on Tuesday spoke by phone and the transition team later put out a statement. “During the call, the two leaders discussed a range of issues including the threats and challenges facing the United States and Russia, strategic economic issues and the historical U.S.-Russia relationship that dates back over 200 years,” it stated. Trump told Putin “that he is very much looking forward to having a strong and enduring relationship with Russia and the people of Russia,” it stated. –Military