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U.S. Threatens Military Action Against Syria; Russia Warns Of 'Grave' Consequences

U.S. President Donald Trump

U.S. President Donald Trump threatened to take military action against Syria over a suspected chemical weapons attack on Damascus civilians over the weekend, while Russia warned any such action would have "grave repercussions."

Speaking at a meeting with U.S. military advisers late on April 9, Trump said "we're making a decision as to what we do with respect to the horrible attack that was made near Damascus...and it will be met forcefully."

“We can’t let atrocities like we all witnessed...we can’t let that happen in our world...especially when we’re able to because of the power of the United States...we’re able to stop it.”

"We have a lot of options militarily, and we'll be letting you know pretty soon. Probably after the fact," Trump said. Trump later conferred with French President Emmanuel Macron, and they agreed on the need for a "firm response" to the attack, Macron's office said.

Trump had earlier said that Syrian allies Russia and Iran may also bear some responsibility for the attack on April 7 in the Damascus suburb of Douma that killed at least 40 people.

Unidentified volunteers give aid to children at a hospital following an alleged chemical attack on the rebel-held town, April 8, 2018
Unidentified volunteers give aid to children at a hospital following an alleged chemical attack on the rebel-held town, April 8, 2018

"Everybody’s going to pay a price... 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 said.

The U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, urged joint action against Syria at a meeting of the UN Security Council on April 9, but vowed that the United States will act on its own if the UN doesn't respond.

"We have reached the moment when the world must see justice done," Haley told the council.

Trump ordered missile strikes on a Syrian air base a year ago in retaliation for an alleged chemical weapon strike, but they did little to deter the Syrian government from gaining an upper hand in its seven-year war against Sunni rebels.

At the time of the weekend attack in Douma, Russia and Syria were in the midst of clearing the last pocket of rebel resistance in the Damascus suburb of eastern Ghouta, and Russia announced on April 9 that it had resumed evacuating rebels and civilians from Douma under a negotiated pull-out deal.

Nevetheless, the threat of what could be imminent U.S. military action prompted Russia's Ambassador to the UN Vasily Nebenzya to warn on April 9 that Moscow will not allow its forces on the ground in Syria to be put at risk.

"From what we hear now, I am afraid they are looking for a military option, which is very, very dangerous," he said after the UN meeting where he said Russia had investigated the scene in Douma and found no evidence that chemical weapons were used.

"There was no chemical weapons attack," Nebenzya said, adding that Syria and Russia have invited the international chemical weapons watchdog to inspect the site.

Political Caricature - RFE/RL
Political Caricature - RFE/RL

"Through the relevant channels we already conveyed to the U.S. that armed force under mendacious pretext against Syria --where, at the request of the legitimate government of a country, Russian troops have been deployed -- could lead to grave repercussions," he said.

"Without any grounds and without thinking about the consequences, the governments of the U.S., the U.K., and France are pursuing a confrontational policy towards Russia and Syria and are pushing the others towards this," Nebenzya was quoted as saying Russian state-run news agency TASS.

The situation has "gone beyond the scope of what was acceptable even during the Cold War," he said.

Staffan de Mistura, the UN Special Envoy on Syria, warned that the Syrian war has expanded beyond a national or regional conflict and is now a "threat to international security." He said an escalation of the conflict could have "unimaginable consequences."

Haley castigated Russia for backing Syria, saying "Russia's hands are covered in the blood of Syrian children." She called Syrian President Bashar al-Assad a "monster" who "no civilized government would have anything to do with."

Haley accused Russia of repeatedly allowing Assad to carry out "war crimes" against innocent civilians by vetoing UN efforts to hold him accountable.

The United States has repeatedly offered measures to establish an independent UN investigatation of who is behind the chemical attacks in Syria. Haley offered another such resolution on April 9 and called for a council vote on April 10.

But Russia blocked several similar resolutions last year, and Nebenzya hinted that the latest one -- which he called"unacceptable" -- would meet the same fate.

Haley accused Russia of protecting Syria at the UN while Moscow's military advisers in Damascus are helping Assad wage a "starve or surrender campaign" against Syrian civilians that includes the use of chemical weapons.

"We are on the edge of a dangerous precipice," she said. "The great evil of chemical-weapons use that once unified the world in opposition is on the verge of becoming the new normal. The international community must not let this happen."

Earlier on April 9, the Kremlin said Russian President Vladimir Putin told German Chancellor Angela Merkel that "provocation and speculation" on the matter was unacceptable.

The UN's top human rights official, Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein, warned against what he called a "collective shrug" and "impotent" international response to the possible use of chemical weapons in Douma.

He said veto-wielding UN council members need to "wake up fast to the irreparable damage" being done to international efforts to ban such weapons of mass destruction.

With reporting by AP, AFP, Reuters, and dpa