Trump promises 'forceful action' over Syria's suspected chemical attack

File: US President Donald Trump has a promised quick, forceful action in response to a suspected chemical weapons attack in Syria. Photo: NYEIN CHAN NAING / POOL / AFP

WASHINGTON - US President Donald Trump on Monday promised quick, forceful action in response to a deadly suspected chemical weapons attack in Syria, appearing to suggest a potential military response.

Trump told a meeting with military leaders and national security advisers he would make a decision by Monday night "or very shortly thereafter" on a response, adding that the United States had "a lot of options militarily" on Syria.

"But we can’t let atrocities like we all witnessed... we can’t let that happen in our world... especially when we’re able to because of the power of the US, the power of our country, we’re able to stop it."



The suspected chemical weapons attack late on Saturday killed at least 60 people, with more than 1,000 injured at several sites in Douma, a city near the capital, Damascus, according to a Syrian aid organisation.

Initial US assessments have been unable to determine conclusively what materials were used in the attack and could not say with certainty that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government forces were behind it.

Trump said, however, that Washington was "getting more clarity" on who was responsible for the attack.

US officials told Reuters that Washington was weighing a multinational military response.

READ: Trump threatens to retaliate against Syria for chemical weapons attack

For the second time in less than 24 hours, Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron spoke by telephone to coordinate their response, the White House said.

Macron and Trump had again reiterated their desire for a "strong reaction" from the international community, Macron's office said.

Asked at a cabinet meeting earlier on Monday if Russian President Vladimir Putin bore any responsibility for the attack, Trump said: "He may, yeah, he may. And if he does, it’s going to be very tough, very tough."

On Sunday, Trump, who had sought warmer relations with Russia, criticised Putin by name on Twitter as he castigated Russia and Iran for backing "Animal Assad."

The US envoy to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, said Washington "will respond" to the attack regardless of whether the UN.Security Council acts.



Moscow said it warned the US of "grave repercussions" if it carried out an attack against Syrian government forces.

The Syrian government and its ally Russia have denied involvement in the attack.

International bodies led by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) were trying to establish exactly what happened in Douma, a rebel-held town in the eastern Ghouta district.

READ: Trump, Merkel concerned over Putin's new weapons

US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Monday accused Russia of falling short on its obligations to ensure that Syria abandoned its chemical weapons capabilities.

The Russian military said on Monday its medics had examined patients in a hospital in Douma and had found no traces of a chemical attack, Interfax news agency reported.

Russia and Syria both offered during the UN Security Council meeting on Monday to take OPCW investigators to Douma.

The OPCW did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But weapons inspectors are not expected to go to Syria after being attacked twice while trying to get to the sites of chemical weapons attacks since 2013.

Instead, they have in recent investigations gathered blood samples from victims and interviewed witnesses outside Syria.

The US plans to call for a UN Security Council vote on Tuesday on a proposal for a new inquiry into responsibility for the use of chemical weapons in Syria, diplomats said.

The Syria conflict was further complicated on Monday when unidentified warplanes struck a Syrian air base near Homs, killing at least 14 people, including Iranian personnel. Syria and Russia accused Israel of carrying out the attack.

Israel, which has struck Syrian army locations many times in the course of its neighbour's seven-year-old civil war, has neither confirmed nor denied mounting the raid.

But Israeli officials said the Tiyas, or T-4, air base was being used by troops from Iran and that Israel would not accept such a presence in Syria of its arch foe.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the strike on the T-4 base was a dangerous development.

The incidents in Douma and Tiyas demonstrated the complex and volatile nature of the Syria war, which involves a number of countries and insurgent groups.



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