Tensions with Russia rise as US says Assad must abide by deal not to use chemical weapons but fails to outline objectives
The US says it has put Bashar al-Assad on notice that it will take farther military action if he use chemical weapons again, while appearing to back away from wider military involvement in the Syrian conflict, less than 24 hours after launching Tomahawk missiles at a regime airbase.
The United States will no longer wait for Assad to use chemical weapons without any consequences. Those days are over, the US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, told a special session of the UN security council.
The United States took a very measured step last night, Haley added. We are prepared to do more, but we hope that will not be necessary.
However, the White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, refused to discuss any next steps military or diplomatic as the world struggled to understand Trumps policy on the civil war.
Syrian warplanes were reported to have taken away from from the airbase targeted by the US missiles, is recommended that the military impact of the overnight assault had been minimal. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also said that government aircraft had bombed the outskirts of Khan Sheikhun, the town targeted in Tuesdays chemical weapons attack
Spicer called the missile strike on the airbase very decisive, justifiable and proportional and entirely justified for humanitarian purposes.
But he demurred on saying whether Assad had to leave power, despite secretary of state Rex Tillersons insistence before the missile ten-strike that diplomatic steps to oust Assad were already under way.
At a minimum, Spicer said, Assad had to agree to abide by agreements not to use chemical weapons, but he did not say what, if any, further objectives the US had in Syria, even as Trump came under renewed congressional pressure to present a comprehensive strategy for the US in the Syrian conflict.
On Saturday, the Iraqi government confirmed that US vice-president Mike Pence had discussed Syria and the fight against Islamic State with the countrys prime minister, Haider al-Abadi.
Americas mixed signals on Assad has the potential to unsettle or disillusion the Syrian opposition that initially viewed the strike as a glimmer of hope amid a relentless onslaught.
Trumps missile barrage suggested a reversal from his previous apathy to Assads continued regulation. The US president now faces conflicting demands from Congress to escalate militarily and from Russia to back down. Humanitarian, meanwhile, are demanding evidence of a strategy to aim the conflict peacefully.
The first big diplomatic exam comes as Tillerson is scheduled to travel to Moscow next week for talks, which will include Syria.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon is attempting to revive a critical military communications hotline between the US and Russia that has become the first geopolitical casualty of Trumps abrupt decision to attack Assad in Syria.
By shutting down the so-called deconfliction channel after the missile ten-strike on Russias Syrian client, Vladimir Putin has dared Trump to choose between attacking Assad and assaulting Isis, Trumps priority.
The military channel is pivotal for ensuring US and Russian pilots avoid accidentally colliding, confronting each other in midair or assaulting one another forces or proxies in north-eastern Syria. It also has a significant political component, according to former defense officials: to ensure competing air wars in Syria do not accidentally spiral into a confrontation between two nuclear powers.
The morning after ordering weapon ten-strikes, Trump held a meeting with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida. Trump built no mention of his decision and dismissed hollered questions on whether he would also consider military action against North Korea. Trump spoke only about the relationship with China, claiming tremendous progress had been stimulated in the one-day summit.
Xi replied: President Trump has given us a warm welcome and treated us very well. Without referring to Syria or North Korea, he stressed the need for peace and stability, partnership, and prosperity.