US President Donald Trump accused Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government of going “beyond a red line” with a poison gas attack on civilians.
He said his attitude toward Syria and Assad had changed, opening a rift with Moscow, Reuters reports.
Trump declined to say how or whether his administration would respond but said the attack, which killed at least 70 people, many of them children, “crosses many, many lines”, an allusion to his predecessor Barack Obama’s threat to topple Assad with air strikes if he used such weapons.
“I will tell you, what happened yesterday is unacceptable to me,” Trump told reporters at a news conference with Jordan’s King Abdullah on Wednesday.
“And I will tell you, it’s already happened that my attitude toward Syria and Assad has changed very much.”
However, when asked at an earlier meeting whether he was formulating a new policy on Syria, Trump said: “You’ll see.”
US officials rejected Russia’s assertion that Syrian rebels were to blame for the attack.
Trump’s comments, which came just a few days after Washington said it was no longer focused on making Assad leave power, suggested a clash between the Kremlin and Trump’s White House after initial signals of warmer ties.
Trump did not mention Russia in his comments on Wednesday but Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said it was time for Russia to think carefully about its support for Assad.
Western countries, including the United States, blamed Assad’s armed forces for the worst chemical attack in Syria for more than four years.
US intelligence officials, based on a preliminary assessment, said the deaths were most likely caused by sarin nerve gas dropped by Syrian aircraft on the town of Khan Sheikhoun on Tuesday.
A senior State Department official said Washington had not yet ascertained it was sarin.
Moscow offered an alternative explanation that would shield Assad: that the poison gas belonged to rebels and had leaked from an insurgent weapons depot hit by Syrian bombs.
A senior White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Russian explanation was not credible. “We don’t believe it,” the official said.
The US, Britain and France have proposed a draft UN Security Council resolution that would condemn the attack; the Russian Foreign Ministry called it “unacceptable” and said it was based on “fake information”.
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