US President Donald Trump is pushing for more forceful military action in Syria than his military advisers have recommended or would consider wise, Reuters and the Wall Street Journal reported Friday, quoting administration officials.
According to the reports, the president wants the US response to an alleged chemical strike by the Assad regime in Syria to also include measures that would hurt Damascus allies Russia and Iran.
Trump wants Defense Secretary James Mattis “to push the limits a little bit more,” a White House official told the Wall Street Journal, while Mattis is reluctant.
Trump’s position is being encouraged by new hawkish national security adviser John Bolton, who wants a “ruinous” response in Syria, the report said.
Any aggressive US military action in Syria could lead to escalation and broader conflict with Moscow and Tehran, which both have a heavy military presence in the Arab nation.
The US State Department said Friday Washington it has proof that Syrian leader Bashar Assad’s regime launched a chemical weapons strike last weekend on the then rebel-held city of Douma.
“I’m not going to say which day we absolutely knew that there was proof. The attack took place on Saturday, we know for a fact that it was a chemical weapon,” spokeswoman Heather Nauert said.
“We know that there are only certain countries like Syria that have delivery mechanisms and have those types of weapons.”
Asked whether she could say that the United States has proof that Assad’s regime was behind the strike, Nauert said: “Yes.”
International experts from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons were due in Syria over the weekend to inspect the site where dozens of civilians reportedly died in a gas attack.
But the OPCW is not mandated to ascribe blame to any party, simply to establish facts like the kind of agent that was used, how it was delivered and how many people it killed or wounded.
As fears of a Russia confrontation with Western powers mount, French President Emmanuel Macron expressed his “deep concerns” over the situation in Syria in a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
According to a statement by the French presidency, Macron called for dialogue between France and Russia to “continue and intensify” to bring peace and stability to Syria. The Kremlin readout said that Putin warned against rushing to blame the Syrian government before conducting a “thorough and objective probe.”
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council called by Russia Friday that “there is no military solution to the conflict.” He said “the Cold War is back — with a vengeance but with a difference,” because safeguards that managed the risk of escalation in the past “no longer seem to be present.”
The US ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, said Trump “has not yet made a decision about possible actions in Syria.” She said of the alleged chemical attack that “Russia can complain all it wants about fake news, but no one is buying its lies and its cover-ups.”
Russia has been a staunch ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government and has helped turn the tide of war in his favor since entering the conflict in September 2015. Syria’s civil war, which began as a popular uprising against Assad, is now in its eighth year.