President Trump on Sunday vowed there would be a “big price to pay” for the “mindless CHEMICAL attack” that killed dozens of people in a rebel-held enclave in Syria, and an administration official said no options are being excluded from consideration.
As grisly images emerged of bodies in basements and bloodied survivors at hospitals in eastern Ghouta, Trump made a rare criticism of Russian President Vladimir Putin. He said Putin shared the blame for the deaths through Russia’s support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
“President Putin, Russia and Iran are responsible for backing Animal Assad. Big price to pay,” Trump tweeted. “Open area immediately for medical help and verification. Another humanitarian disaster for no reason whatsoever. SICK!”
White House homeland security adviser Thomas Bossert said nothing should be taken “off the table.” In an appearance on ABC News’s “This Week,” Bossert said U.S. officials have examined photos and information about the incident in Douma, a Damascus suburb.
“It’s a quite serious problem. We’ve seen the photos of that attack,” Bossert said. “This is one of those issues on which every nation, all peoples, have all agreed and have agreed since World War II this is an unacceptable practice.”
Just before Trump tweeted, Russia’s Foreign Ministry released a statement that dismissed claims that government-backed troops in Syria were responsible, saying information on the alleged attack is a tactic being used to cover up for terrorists.
“The goal of these false conjectures, which are without basis, are designed to shield the terrorists and the implacable radical opposition, who reject a political settlement,” the statement said. “It is necessary to warn, once again, that military intervention under such invented and fabricated pretexts in Syria, where Russian servicemen are based at the request of the legitimate government, is absolutely unacceptable and can lead to very serious consequences.”
Syria has also denied any chemical weapons were used and pointed fingers at a rebel group. The Syrian government-run news agency Sana alleged the reports were a lie made up by Jaish al-Islam, a rebel group that has controlled Douma.
“Jaish al-Islam terrorists are in a state of collapse and their media outlets are [making] chemical attack fabrications in an exposed and failed attempt to obstruct advances by the Syrian Arab army,” Sana said.
The State Department said Russia, due to its “unwavering support” for Syria’s government, “ultimately bears responsibility” for the reported attacks.
Saturday’s incident happened almost a year to the day after more than 80 people were killed in a sarin attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun. The Syrian government was deemed responsible in a joint inquiry by the United Nations and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
Last week, Trump said he wants to withdraw troops out of Syria. The White House said on Wednesday that the U.S. military role “is coming to a rapid end.” About 2,000 U.S. troops and a handful of diplomats from the State Department and the United States Agency for International Development are in Syria.
The British government also condemned the Syrian government and its backers.
“These are very concerning reports of a chemical weapons attack with significant number of casualties, which if correct, are further proof of Assad’s brutality against innocent civilians and his backers’ callous disregard for international norms,” said a statement from the Foreign Ministry. “An urgent investigation is needed and the international community must respond. We call on the Assad regime and its backers, Russia and Iran, to stop the violence against innocent civilians.”
Trump also blamed the Obama administration for not ousting the Assad government.
“If President Obama had crossed his stated Red Line In The Sand, the Syrian disaster would have ended long ago! Animal Assad would have been history!” he tweeted.
Several prominent Republicans urged the president to take action — and to reconsider his plan to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria as quickly as possible.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee, called the alleged attack “absolutely horrific” and said Sunday that U.S. officials should think about taking military action in response.
“Last time this happened, the president did a targeted attack to take out some of the facilities. That may be an option that we should consider now,” Collins said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) said that it is “no accident” that the Syrian regime seems to be once again using chemical weapons.
“They see us and our resolve breaking, they see our determination to stay in Syria waning . . . but President Trump can reset the table here,” Graham said Sunday morning on “This Week.” “If he doesn’t follow through and live up to that tweet, he’s going to look weak in the eyes of Russia and Iran. So this is the defining moment, Mr. President. You need to follow through with that tweet; show a resolve that Obama never did to get this right.”