US prepared to ‘do more’ in Syria, says Nikki Haley

US ambassador to the UN stresses main priority is tackling Islamic State in region

US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley sought to link the military strikes to the chemical attack and insist that there had been no change in US policy. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley sought to link the military strikes to the chemical attack and insist that there had been no change in US policy. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

 

The United States is prepared to “do more” if necessary in Syria, US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said on Sunday. She said the main priority for the United States remains tackling Islamic State in the region. The United States confounded the international community on Thursday night by ordering missile strikes on the Shayrat airfield in Western Syria as a response to last week’s chemical attack in a town in the Idlib province of the country.

In a series of media interviews on Sunday, Ms Haley and secretary of state Rex Tillerson sought to link the military strikes to the chemical attack and insist that there had been no change in US policy.

Ms Haley said the decision to launch the missile strikes had been to tell Syrian president Bashar al-Assad that “enough is enough” and to let Russia know that is was no longer acceptable to “cover for the regime”.

But Ms Haley warned that the US was prepared to “do more” if needed, leaving the door open for more military intervention as the international community awaits a response from Mr Assad and his allies. “We will act when we need to act,” she said.

Political transition

In a significant shift from the White House’s stance on the Syrian president – just a week ago the Trump administration acknowledged the “political reality” of Assad remaining in power – Ms Haley said that he must go. “We don’t see a peaceful Syria with Assad in there,” she said.

Mr Tillerson also suggested that Mr Assad should be removed, but that this should be achieved in the context of a political transition.

While he conceded that removing Mr Assad could “ultimately” require greater pressure, such as military action, he said that the United States was in favour of a “political process that we believe the Syrian people will lawfully be able to decide the fate of Assad.”

“We’ve seen what that looks like, when you undertake a violent regime change in Libya, and the situation in Libya continues to be very chaotic,” he said.

“We have to learn the lessons of the past and learn the lessons of what went wrong in Libya when you choose that pathway of regime change.”

Mr Tillerson is due to meet his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, in Moscow on Tuesday.

The focus of US policy has turned to possible Russian complicity with last week’s chemical attacks which the United States says were launched from Syrian aircraft based at the Shayrat air field near Homs.

Russian military

Russia also had a presence at the airfield, prompting questions as to how much the Russian military knew about Tuesday’s attack, which left more than 80 people dead.

While former US president Barack Obama chose not to intervene militarily following Mr Assad’s use of chemical weapons in 2013, his administration sought the elimination of all chemical weapons in the country.

Mr Tillerson is likely to raise the issue of the continued use of chemical weapons in Moscow this week.

Russia had “agreed to be the guarantor of the elimination of the chemical weapons and why Russia has not been able to achieve that is unclear to me,” Mr Tillerson said on Sunday.