Trump Deciding on Response to Alleged Chemical Attack in Syria
U.S. President Donald Trump says his administration will likely say “after the fact” how it decided to respond to a suspected chemical attack on the outskirts of Syria’s capital.
“It will be met, and it will be met forcefully,” Trump said before meeting with senior military leaders late Monday.
He highlighted what he said was the power of the United States to stop atrocities like the attack Saturday in rebel-held eastern Ghouta that killed at least 40 people.
“We have a lot of options, militarily,” he said, with out giving specifics. Last year, he ordered airstrikes on a Syrian airfield used to launch another chemical attack.
Trump was critical of former President Barack Obama for what he said was a failing strategy of publicizing planned military maneuvers ahead of time.
Syria has denied using chemical weapons throughout the conflict that began in 2011, including the most recent suspected chemical attack. Russia said there is no evidence Syria carried out such an attack.
Trump said Monday, “We are getting some very good clarity,” regarding who was responsible, a task that has been difficult throughout the Syrian war and the source of conflict among the many international players involved.
Earlier he told his Cabinet at a White House meeting that the U.S. would figure out who was responsible for the attack, whether it was Syria, Russia, Iran or “all of them together.”
Assigning responsibility was the domain of investigators from the Joint Investigative Mechanism between the United Nations and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which was dissolved after Russia vetoed a renewal of its mandate in November. The United States put forward a new proposal Monday to Security Council members for a new attribution mechanism, but it was not immediately clear whether it would win the necessary Russian support.
U.N. diplomats said the United States was pushing for a vote on the resolution on Tuesday.
U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley told the Security Council on Monday that both Russia and Iran could stop the Syrian government’s “murderous destruction,” adding that Moscow’s hands are “covered in the blood of Syrian children.”
“We have reached the moment when the world must see justice done,” Haley said. “History will record this as the moment when the Security Council either discharged its duty or demonstrated its utter and complete failure to protect the people of Syria. Either way, the United States will respond.”
Moscow’s envoy Vassily Nebenzia said the OPCW, which is tasked with investigating such allegations without determining responsibility, could send a fact-finding mission “tomorrow” to Damascus.
“There the Syrian authorities and Russian troops will provide conditions to travel to the area of the alleged incident,” Nebenzia said.
But Nebenzia went on to say that Russian experts have already visited the site, collected soil samples, interviewed witnesses and medical personnel, and that no chemical weapons attack had taken place.
New attribution mechanism
Britain says Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson spoke to Acting U.S. Secretary of State John Sullivan by phone and the two “agreed that, based on current media reports and reports from those on the ground, this attack bore hallmarks of previous chemical weapons attacks by the Assad regime.”
French President Emmanuel Macron has also spoken by telephone with Trump several times to coordinate their response to Saturday’s attack.
The alleged chemical attack occurred amid new attacks on the last rebel enclave in eastern Ghouta.
First responders said they discovered families suffocated in their homes and shelters with foam on their mouths. Relief workers said more than 500 people, mostly women and children, were brought to medical centers with difficulty breathing, foaming at the mouth and their eyes burning.
The Civil Defense and Syrian American Medical Society said patients gave off a chlorine-like smell, and some had blue skin, an indication of oxygen deprivation.
Meanwhile, Syria and Russia say two Israeli war planes operating in Lebanese air space carried out an attack early Monday on an air base in central Syria. Israel’s military did not comment on the strikes against the T4 base in Homs province.The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 14 people were killed, including Iranian forces.
In February, Israel accused Iranian forces of using the same site to send a drone to Israeli territory. It responded by attacking Syrian air defense and Iranian military targets within Syria, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged to “continue to harm anyone who tries to harm us.”
Initial Syrian state media reports Monday blamed the United States, which along with France denied responsibility.
VOA’s William Gallo, Jeff Seldin and Margaret Besheer contributed to this report.