U.S. President Donald Trump says he will make "major decisions" on Syria in the "next 24 to 48 hours" in response to a suspected chemical attack, as calls increased for an international response to the crisis ahead of a UN Security Council meeting on April 9.
Speaking at the start of a White House meeting that included military leaders and his new national security adviser, John Bolton, Trump said Russian President Vladimir Putin “may” bear responsibility for the "heinous attack on innocent" Syrians in the rebel-held town of Douma.
"If he does, it’s going to be very tough," Trump said. "Everybody’s going to pay a price. He will. Everybody will.”
"If it's Russia, if it's Syria, if it's Iran, if it's all of them together, we'll figure it out," Trump told reporters at the start of the meeting.
The Kremlin said Putin told German Chancellor Angela Merkel during an April 9 telephone conversation that "provocation and speculation" on the matter was unacceptable.
"The leaders exchanged opinions on the situation in Syria, including the accusations against Damascus by a number of Western countries of using chemical weapons," the Kremlin said in a statement.
Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department said the symptoms of the victims of the alleged April 7 chemical-weapon attack on the rebel-held Syrian city of Douma were consistent with “an asphyxiation agent” and “a nerve agent of some type.”
The State Department said it has not been able to determine what kind of nerve agent was used, adding that Syrian government forces and its allies, Russia and Iran, are denying international monitors access to the city to investigate.
The State Department also said Washington was consulting with its allies on a response and that “there will be consequences for this unacceptable atrocity.”
U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on April 9 that the United States not ruling out military air strikes against Syrian government forces in response to the killing of at least 40 people in the suspected toxic-gas attack.
Bolton, who was on his first day at his new post, has previously advocated air strikes in Syria.
The air strikes came a day after the European Union said evidence suggests a chlorine-gas attack was carried out at Douma by Syrian government forces.
British Prime Minister Theresa May said on April 9 that, if evidence confirms that Syrian government forces were responsible for a chemical attack on Douma, countries backing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government should be held accountable along with the Syrian leader.
"This is about the actions -- the brutal actions -- of Assad and his regime, but it's also about the backers of that regime. And, of course, Russia is one of those backers," May said.
"This is a brutal regime that is attacking its own people, and we are very clear that it must be held to account, and its backers must be held to account, too," May said.
Syria, Russia, and Iran -- which also back's Assad's forces -- rejected the reports of a chemical attack on Douma as a "fabrication."
Earlier, Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron said they would coordinate "a strong, joint response" to the "horrific" attack. Germany said those behind the "abhorrent" attack should be held responsible, pointing to the Damascus government.
Speaking with his French counterpart, Jean-Yves Le Drian, on the phone, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson "underlined the urgent need to investigate what had happened in Douma and to ensure a strong and robust international response," the Foreign Office said in a statement.
Lavrov said that Russian military specialists "did not find any trace of chlorine or any other chemical substance used against civilians" on the site.
The global chemical-weapons watchdog said a fact-finding mission was collecting information on the latest reported attack.
Trump said Syria, Russia, and Iran must allow international monitors into Douma to carry out an independent investigation.
Syria, Russia, and Iran have accused Israel of staging an overnight air strike on a Syrian military air base amid the international outrage over the alleged chemical attack.
Syrian state media said several people were killed or injured in the strike on the Tayfur base, also known as T4, near the central city of Homs in the early hours of April 9. Israel, which has previously hit targets in Syria, did not immediately comment.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called the allegations a “provocation” and a “very dangerous development.”
A Britain-based monitoring group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said at least 14 pro-government fighters were killed in the strike, including allied Iranian forces.
Iran's semiofficial Fars news agency reported that three Iranian soldiers were killed.
The Russian Defense Ministry said two Israeli F-15 war planes carried out the strikes on T4 from Lebanese airspace.
It said that Syrian air-defense systems shot down five of eight missiles fired and that no Russian military personnel were hurt.
Asked about the claims, an Israeli military spokesman said he had no immediate comment.
Israel has carried out air strikes on Syrian military sites and bases of Iranian-backed militias in Syria in the past.
In April 2017, the U.S. military fired 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at Syria’s Shayrat airfield in response to a sarin gas attack on the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhun. Syria denied it was responsible for the attack, which killed at least 80 people.
France has repeatedly warned that evidence of further use of chemical weapons in Syria was a "red line" that would prompt French military strikes.
"The use of chemical weapons is a war crime," Le Drian on April 8, adding that France will "do its duty" if the reported attack on Douma is verified.
In Berlin, German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said “those responsible for the use of poison gas...must be held to account."
"With this use of poison gas, the circumstances point to Assad regime's responsibility," he said.
Trump on April 8 condemned Russia and President Vladimir Putin, along with Iran, for their support of Assad in the wake of what he described as the "mindless CHEMICAL attack" in Syria that left "many dead, including women and children."
"President Putin, Russia and Iran are responsible for backing Animal Assad. Big price to pay," Trump said on Twitter, calling it an "atrocity" and adding: "Another humanitarian disaster for no reason whatsoever. SICK!"