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WASHINGTON (CNN) – Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Friday that US sanctions against Russia will remain in place until Moscow “reverses the actions” it has taken in Ukraine.

The comments are notable given President Donald Trump’s at-times reluctance to criticize Russia over its actions in Crimea, though he did declare last month that the territory was “taken” by Russia. As a candidate, Trump hinted he might recognize Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and sources have previously told CNN that Ukraine-related sanctions were on the table for review as part of Trump’s interest in pursuing warmer ties with Moscow.

“American and NATO support for Ukraine remains steadfast. As we have repeated at every ministerial and summit since Russia launched its campaign of aggression against Ukraine, NATO allies stand firm in our support of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Tillerson said at a NATO meeting at the organization’s headquarters in Brussels. “We do not, and will not, accept Russian efforts to change the borders of territory of Ukraine.”

He added, “We will continue to hold Russia accountable to its Minsk commitments. The United States sanctions will remain until Moscow reverses the actions that triggered our sanctions.”

At his confirmation hearings in January, Tillerson called Russia’s claims on Crimea “illegitimate.” And US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley also said last month that US sanctions would remain in place against Russian until it withdraws from Crimea.

Earlier Friday, Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis criticized Russian actions in overseas comments aimed at reassuring US allies.

Mattis, appearing with his British counterpart in London, also called out the Putin regime for “mucking around” in other people’s elections — a particularly notable claim coming at a time when federal and congressional investigators are probing alleged Russian meddling in the US elections last November.

“We look to engaging with Russia on a political or diplomatic level, but right now, Russia is choosing to be a strategic competitor,” Mattis said during a news conference with Michael Fallon, the UK defense secretary. He also said “Russian activity” in Afghanistan “gives us concern,” though he stopped short of saying the Putin government was arming the Taliban.

Tillerson previewed his comments ahead of the meeting by saying NATO posture in Eastern Europe in response to “Russia’s aggression in Ukraine and elsewhere” would be a top subject of conversation at the meeting.

Responding to those remarks, a spokeswoman for the Russian foreign ministry told CNN, “We want to see the US foreign policy, not just quotes.”

In response to Mattis, Alexey Pushkov, a senior Russian lawmaker, tweeted, “New US administration sounds just like the old one — Mattis is indistinguishable from (former Defense Secretary Ash) Carter, Tillerson is talking about ‘Russian aggression.’ (Barack) Obama and (Hillary) Clinton must be happy.”

Tillerson is in Brussels to reinforce US commitment to NATO — an organization Trump has repeatedly criticized — and referred to the alliance as “the bedrock for transatlantic security.”

The Trump administration’s top diplomat, however, reiterated on Friday Trump’s call for members to increase their financial contributions to the organization.

Copyright 2017 by CNN NewSource. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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