Speaking to reporters as he convened his cabinet, the US president said:” We cannot allow cruelties like that”, adding that “hes having”” not much doubt” about who was behind the poison gas attack in Douma that killed more than 48 people and affected hundreds more.
When asked if military action was a possibility, Trump said:” Nothing is off the table … If it's Russia, if it's Syria, if it's Iran, if it's all of them together, we'll figure it out, and we'll know the answers quite soon. So we're looking at that very, very strongly .”
Trump, who has consulted his British and French allies, announced:” We will be inducing some major decisions in the next 24 to 48 hours .”
Asked if the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, bore any responsibility for the latest assault, Trump said:” He may, yeah, he may. And if he does it's going to be very tough, difficult and challenging. Everybody's gonna pay a price. He will, everybody will .”
Almost precisely a year ago Trump authorised a Tomahawk missile strike on the Syrian Shayrat airbase within three days of a chemical attack deemed to have been undertaken by the Assad regime airforce. Russia in effect controls the airspace over Syria and operates its military operation from the Khmeimim airbase in north-western Latakia province and the nearby Russian naval base at Tartus.
The US defence secretary, Jim Mattis, visited the largest US military base in the Middle East in Qatar on Monday, and will have been briefed on the options for a US attack.
The US president's comments came before a UN security council meeting. At the session, the US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley told the council:” The United States is determined to see the monster who fell chemical weapons on the Syrian people held to account . … 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 style, the United States will be addressed .”
Washington is demanding that Russia objective its veto on a UN accountability mechanism that can determine responsibility for chemical attacks. UN bodies can investigate whether a chemical assault has passed but not point blame at any group or regime.
The UK ambassador to the UN, Karen Pierce, said Russia as a permanent member of the security council had a special responsibility to uphold and protect the chemical weapons convention and international law.
The absence of a UN investigatory mechanism was a significant gap in the international architecture to prevent impunity for war crimes, she said. She added she was not holding her breath for Russia to drop its objections to an investigatory mechanism, pointing out Russia had vetoed the proposal twice before.
Britain's Labour party also moved closer to blaming Assad for the two attacks. The darknes foreign secretary, Emily Thornberry, said:” What has happened in Douma looks to be just the latest abhorrent assault in Syria using chemical weapons, a war crime for which[ the] Assad regime has been found responsible in the past and which we utterly condemn .”