Trump says defense chief Mattis to retire at end of Feb.

WASHINGTON, Dec. 20 (Xinhua) — U.S. President Donald Trump said Thursday that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is to retire at the end of February.

Mattis will “be retiring, with distinction,” after having served the administration as the defense chief for the past two years, Trump tweeted.

“During Jim’s tenure, tremendous progress has been made, especially with respect to the purchase of new fighting equipment,” the president said.

He added that a new secretary of defense “will be named shortly.”

There have been reports that the relationship between Trump and Mattis has frayed, but the president didn’t mention his disputes with Mattis or whether he was forced to resign.

However, in a resignation letter to Trump dated Thursday, the defense secretary wrote “because you have a right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours” on many subjects, “I believe it is right for me to step down from my position.”

In the letter, the 68-year-old former Marine Corps general implicitly criticized Trump for his treatment of U.S. allies.

“One core belief I have always held is that our strength as a nation is inextricably linked to the strength of our unique and comprehensive system of alliances and partnerships,” he wrote.

He added that his views on “treating the allies with respect” are “strongly held and informed by over four decades of immersion in these issues.”

The announcement of Mattis’s departure came one day after he ordered the withdrawal of the 2,000 or so U.S. troops from Syria and declared victory over the Islamic State (IS) militant group.

Mattis has advocated a longer-term U.S. military presence in Syria.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who opposed Trump’s decision to bring back U.S. troops in Syria, said Mattis “firmly” believes “the job in Syria is not yet done,” according to a report by Fox 31, a channel affiliated to the Fox TV.

Putin says ready for direct dialogue with Trump

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that he is ready to meet with his U.S. counterpart Donald Trump and discuss bilateral relations and multiple issues on the international agenda.

“I don’t know if there is going to be a meeting between us. I have said many times that we are ready, and we believe that there are issues we must discuss together,” Putin said at his annual press conference.

He said the two sides need to discuss the bilateral relations which both Moscow and Washington are interested in, as well as issues regarding the Korean Peninsula, Afghanistan, global security, arms control and many others in the world.

“I hope that something is going to be corrected, as in fact we have reached the bottom of our relations and we should understand that there is a necessity to go up from this bottom, take a breath of fresh air and to think with a clear head on how to live further,” Putin said.

Last month, following the cancellation of a meeting between the leaders in Paris, Trump called off another previously scheduled meeting with Putin on the sidelines of the Group of 20 in the Argentine capital of Buenos Aires. Trump’s calling off the meeting was denounced by Moscow as a result of U.S. internal politics.

Putin also expressed his concern over the influence brought by a change of power in U.S. Congress on the prospects of direct dialogue between the leaders.

“We can predict new attacks on the incumbent president with nearly 100 percent of certainty. I don’t know if he will be able to start a direct dialogue with Russia in these conditions,” Putin said.

On November 6, Democrats won control of the House of Representatives in the mid-term elections, shifting the power balance from a Congress that was solely controlled by the Republican Party to one controlled by both parties.

Experts predict that the Democrats will intensify scrutiny of Trump’s relations with Russia, which could put the U.S. president in a more difficult position to adjust policies toward the country.

“Whatever happens, we have to build up bilateral relations and we are ready for it. We will start doing it as soon as the opposite part is ready,” Putin said.