Ash Carter signals support for Mattis pick, upbraids Russia

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter in June

Story highlights

  • Defense Secretary Carter supports Trump's choice of successor
  • Carter also voiced hardline on Russia and praised NATO

(CNN)Secretary of Defense Ash Carter on Saturday sounded support for retired Gen. James Mattis, President-elect Donald Trump's choice to be his successor, but at the same time he slammed Russia and offered a robust endorsement of traditional US alliances that Trump has at times criticized.

"I'm committed to overseeing the orderly transfer to the next commander in chief," Carter said in a speech at the Reagan Defense Forum at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California.
"Let me also congratulate General Jim Mattis for being chosen to take my place. I've worked with Jim for many years. He's a friend and I hold him in the highest regard," Carter said.
    But the outgoing Pentagon chief also articulated a hard line on Russia, saying "Russia's aggression and provocations appear to be driven by misguided ambitions and misplaced resentment." He said Moscow violated arms control agreements and carried out "nuclear saber rattling."
    Carter also praised NATO and America's alliances in the Pacific, saying, "NATO will be critical to preserving collective defense in the face of new and renewed threats."
    "Everything the United States is doing, both on its own and with NATO, will ensure that we continue to stand up to Russian aggression and that we're ready for longer term competition."
    "We don't seek an enemy in Russia. But make no mistake -- we will defend our allies, the principled international order, and the positive future it affords all of us, Carter said.
    His robust endorsement of NATO was echoed earlier in the day at the Reagan Defense Forum by former Vice President Dick Cheney and President Barack Obama's former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta. Current senior military commanders, members of Congress and former officials attended the forum.
    Carter's remarks come as he prepares to undertake a tour of countries in the Asia-Pacific region, Europe and the Middle East. He will speak to US troops and meet with senior officials from key U.S. allies like Japan and the United Kingdom.