US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis has flatly dismissed reports suggesting he may be leaving President Donald Trump's administration in the coming months, saying: "I wouldn't take it seriously at all."
"How many times have we been through this, now, just since I've been here? It will die down soon, and the people who started the rumour will be allowed to write the next rumour, too," Mattis told reporters at the Pentagon.
"Just the way the town is," he added. "Keep a sense of humour about it."
The remarks were the most direct by Mattis to date about intensifying rumours about his future as Trump approaches the halfway mark of his four-year term amid speculation about changes to his cabinet after upcoming November mid-term elections.
Mattis has become a focus in media stories in recent weeks about the Trump administration, particularly after the release of a book this month by Watergate reporter Bob Woodward that portrayed Mattis privately disparaging Trump to associates.
Mattis strongly denied making any such remarks. Trump on September 5 said he defence chief would remain in his job, adding: "He'll stay right there. We're very happy with him. We're having a lot of victories."
But a New York Times report on September 15 said Trump had "soured on his defence secretary, weary of unfavourable comparisons to Mattis as the adult in the room."
It also noted this year's arrival in the White House of Mira Ricardel, who now has the powerful post of deputy national security adviser and who current and former officials tell Reuters is believed to dislike Mattis.
Western officials privately extol Mattis, whose standing among NATO allies has risen as they become increasingly bewildered by Trump's policies on trade and Iran and disoriented by his outreach to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Australian Associated Press