Donald Trump was yet to make a “final decision” on how to respond to an alleged chemical weapons attack by the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria, the White House said today after the US President met with his national security advisors. “President Trump just finished a meeting with his national security team to discuss the situation in Syria. No final decision has been made,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said.
She said Trump was to confer with French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Theresa May later in the day on the action to be taken against the Assad regime. “We are continuing to asses intelligence and are engaged in conversations with our partners and allies,” Sanders said.
Earlier in the day, Trump told reporters that he was having a very close look at the situation. “We are obviously looking at that very closely. We are looking very, very seriously, very closely at that whole situation. And we’ll see what happens, folks. We’ll see what happens,” he said before the meeting.
“It’s too bad that the world puts us in a position like that. But, you know, as I said this morning, we’ve done a great job with ISIS. We have just absolutely decimated ISIS. But now we have to make some further decisions, so they’ll be made fairly soon,” He said.
Trump had previously said that the Assad regime and Russia – both of whom he says are responsible for the chemical weapons attack – would have to pay a price.
Appearing before the House Armed Services Committee, US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told lawmakers that the use of chemical weapons was “inexcusable”.
“Some things are simply inexcusable, beyond the pale, and in the worst interest of not just the Chemical Weapons Convention, but of civilisation itself. And so the recognition of that means, at times, you’re going to see contrary impulses,” he said.
Mattis said the US during the Obama administration tried to deal with the chemical weapons when he was enlisting the Russians, who were complicit in the Assad regime retaining those weapons.
“And the only reason Assad is still in power is because of the Russians’ regrettable vetoes in the UN and the Russian and Iranian military. So how do we deal with this very complex situation?” he asked.
“First of all, we are committed to ending that war through the Geneva process and the UN-orchestrated effort. It has been unfulfilled because, again, Russia has continually blocked the efforts. But that doesn’t mean we give up. We work with the international community, the United Nations to get the Geneva process underway and make certain that we don’t allow this war to go on,” Mattis said.
He said he has seen refugees from Asia to Europe, Kosovo to Africa but has never seen refugees as “traumatised as coming out of Syria”. “It’s got to end. And our strategy remains the same as a year ago. It is to drive this to a UN-brokered peace, but, at the same time, keep our foot on the neck of ISIS until we suffocate it,” said the defense secretary.
The Trump administration, he said, has not yet made any decision to launch military attacks into Syria. “I think that, when you look back at President Obama sending the US troops into Syria at the time he did, he also had to deal with this type of situation, because we are going after a named terrorist group that was not actually named in the AUMF that put them in,” he said.