President Donald Trump says a U.S. response to the recent alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria will be “made fairly soon.”
“We’ll see what happens..we’re looking very seriously at that situation,” Trump said Thursday at the White House, ahead of talks with his top advisors on Syria.
Earlier, Trump insisted he “never said when an attack on Syria would take place,” tweeting that “it could be very soon or not so soon at all.” A day earlier, he warned “missiles will be coming to Syria.”
The White House has said Trump is considering striking Syria with missiles as one option to retaliate for the latest alleged chemical attack blamed on Syria’s government forces. At least 40 people were reportedly killed and hundreds sickened in the attack Saturday in the town of Douma, in eastern Ghouta, on the outskirts of Damascus. Syria has denied using chemical weapons.
NBC news reported that the U.S. has received blood and urine samples from the scene that have tested positive for chemical weapons.
Inspectors from the international Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said a fact-finding mission is on their way to Syria and will start work in Douma on Saturday.
French President Emmanuel Macron said Thursday France has “proof” that chemical weapons were used by Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad’s regime. He said France will respond at the time of its choosing.
Some expect action within days
Officials and analysts in Washington say a robust, U.S.-led retaliatory military response is expected within days.
U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told lawmakers Thursday while he has no conclusive proof chemical weapons were used in the recent attack, the behavior of both Syria and Russia has become “simply inexcusable.”
“If Russia prevents the United Nations from dealing with it, we can sit acquiescent or we can do something about it,” Mattis added. “However, looking at the chemical warfare convention, I think it’s by far in the best interest of civilization, certainly in the best interests of America that that convention be obeyed.”
Still, he said, “We have not yet made any decision to launch military attacks into Syria.”
In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel said she supports sending a message that the use of chemical weapons is unacceptable but her country will not take part in any military action.
British Prime Minister Theresa May convened an emergency Cabinet meeting Thursday to discuss what role Britain will play in any response to the situation.
‘They will be coming’
Russia has called on all parties involved in Syria to refrain from actions that could destabilize the region.
“We hope that there will be no point of no return; that the U.S. and their allies will refrain from military action against a sovereign state. You understand that the danger of escalation is higher than simply just Syria, because our military is there on the invitation of the Syrian government,” Russia’s U.N. ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said.
Asked about the possibility of war between the U.S. and Russia, the Russian ambassador said “We cannot exclude any possibilities, unfortunately, because we saw messages coming from Washington, they were very bellicose. They know we are there. I wish there was dialogue through appropriate channels to avert any dangerous development.”
After Russia’s ambassador to Lebanon said this week Russian forces would shoot down any missiles fired at Syria, Trump said on Twitter Wednesday the Russians should be ready, “because they will be coming.”
Syrian rebels claim government forces dropped barrel bombs containing poisonous chemicals on civilians in Douma.
Russia’s military announced Thursday the Syrian government is now in full control of the area.
More than 2,000 U.S. troops are in Syria, where a U.S.-led coalition has launched thousands of airstrikes — mostly on the Islamic State terror group and other extremists.
The USS Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group, with about 6,500 sailors, departed Norfolk in Virginia on Wednesday for what the U.S. navy termed a routine deployment to Europe and the Middle East. A U.S. Navy guided missile destroyer, the Donald Cook, departed Cyprus on Monday in the Mediterranean Sea.
The Cook and the USS Porter, on April 7 last year, together launched 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles from the Mediterranean at Syria’s Shayrat airbase in response to a chemical attack three days prior that killed at least 74 people and sickened hundreds.
Margaret Besheer contributed to this report from the United Nations