Trump says decision on Syria strike to come ‘fairly soon’

Emmanuel Macron says he has proof of Syria’s guilt but needs to gather more information

Tensions between Washington and Moscow reached fever pitch as Donald Trump warned that the US was about to launch a missile strike on Syria.

 

US president Donald Trump said he was holding meetings on Thursday on Syria, where he has threatened missile strikes in response to a suspected poison gas attack, and expected to make decisions “fairly soon”.

Fears of confrontation between Russia, Syria’s big ally, and the West have been running high since Mr Trump said on Wednesday that missiles “will be coming” in response to the attack in the Syrian town of Douma on April 7th, and lambasted Moscow for standing by Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.

“Never said when an attack on Syria would take place. Could be very soon or not so soon at all!” Mr Trump wrote in a tweet on Thursday.

Later, he said: “We’re having a number of meetings today, we’ll see what happens. Now we have to make some . . . decisions, so they’ll be made fairly soon.”

French president Emmanuel Macron said France had proof the Syrian government carried out the attack near Damascus, which aid groups have said killed dozens of people, and will decide whether to strike back when all the necessary information has been gathered.

“We have proof that last week . . chemical weapons were used, at least with chlorine, and that they were used by the regime of Bashar al-Assad,” Mr Macron said, without offering details of any evidence. “We will need to take decisions in due course, when we judge it most useful and effective,” Mr Macron told broadcaster TF1.

Since his election last year, Mr Macron has said the use of chemical weapons against civilians in Syria was a “red line” and that France would retaliate militarily if it were proven. Despite repeated attacks in which chemical weapons were believed to have been been used, the Élysée until now has said France lacked absolute proof.

Daily conversations

Mr Macron said he has discussed the Syrian crisis with Mr Trump every day this week. “Our teams are working very closely together. We will take decisions in due course, when we see what is most useful and most efficient.”

British prime minister Theresa May held a special cabinet meeting to weigh up whether Britain should join in any possible military action. She has cast the attack in Douma, which was held at the time by rebels, as barbaric.

Speaking in Dublin on Thursday following a meeting with German foreign minister Heiko Maas, Tánaiste Simon Coveney said: “We don’t see how a military escalation that would involve two of the most powerful countries in the world in a country already devastated by war helps the situation. I say that as a friend of the United States and as a friend of the United Kingdom. ”

Mr Maas also emphasised Germany’s desire to see a political rather than military solution to the current crisis.

Syria and its backers, Russia and Iran, have said reports of the attack were fabricated by rebels and rescue workers in Douma and have accused the United States of seeking to use it as a pretext to attack the Syrian government.

In Washington, US defence secretary Jim Mattis told Congress he believed there was a chemical attack in Syria, but added a short while later that the United States had not made any decision to launch military action in Syria.

Blood and urine

NBC News reported that US officials obtained blood and urine samples from victims of the Douma attack that tested positive for chemicals, mainly for chlorine and some for a nerve agent. The officials said they were “confident” in the intelligence though not 100 per cent sure, NBC News said on its website.

A team of experts from the global chemical weapons watchdog, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, was travelling to Syria and will start their investigations on Saturday, the Netherlands-based agency said. It was not clear whether Trump and US allies would wait for the results of the investigation before deciding on a possible strike.

Russia, Mr Assad’s most important ally in his seven-year-old war with rebels, said it deployed military police in Douma on Thursday after the town was taken over by government forces. “They are the guarantors of law and order in the town,” RIA news agency quoted Russia’s defense ministry as saying.

There were signs of a global effort to head off a direct confrontation between Russia and the West. The Kremlin said a crisis communications link with the United States, created to avoid an accidental clash over Syria, was in use.

There was no direct word from Russian president Vladimir Putin on the crisis, though he discussed the situation with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan by phone on Thursday, Interfax news agency said. – Reuters