UPDATE 1900 GMT: The US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, has accused the Assad regime of using chemical weapons at least 50 times in Syria’s conflict.
Haley said at a UN Security Council meeting, “Our president has not yet made a decision about possible action in Syria. But should the United States and our allies decide to act in Syria, it will be in defense of a principle on which we all agree.”
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Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia insisted there was no confirmed evidence that chemical weapons were used last Saturday, and maintained that the US and its allies had “demonstrated they have no interest in an investigation” — even though Russia vetoed a US-drafted resolution for an inspection with full authority to determine responsibility for the attacks.
The Russian envoy also asserted that Russia, Mr. Assad’s biggest ally, had done far more than the West to achieve peace in the Syria conflict. He accused Washington of having adopted “a categorical policy to unleash military force against Syria.”
Haley said the use of chemical weapons was “a violation of all standards of morality” and commented on Douma, “We know who did this. Our allies know who did this. Russia can complain all it wants about fake news, but no one is buying its lies and its cover-ups.”
UPDATE 1830 GMT: Adnan Dahhan, a resident of East Ghouta displaced by the pro-Assad assault, reacts to the prospect of a US-UK-France response:
They should have bombed the regime before they took over Eastern Ghouta and forcibly displaced us. We have already been hit dozens of times with chemical weapons, and now they have agreed to evacuate us….
If you can see me right now, you’ll see me carrying only the clothes on my back. We have lost everything. It is too little, too late.
However, Dahhan still welcomes the intervention, “If the attack can prevent further attacks against civilians in Idlib [Province in northwest Syria] and stop us from being displaced again, and bring us back to our homes, then I am for it.”
As the US considers options for a response to the Assad regime’s chemical attacks near Damascus, both the UK and France supported action after Thursday meetings.
The Trump Administration’s national security team conferred over regime targets that could be struck and considered scenarios following a response, amid Russia’s threats of “war” if the US acted.
Trump continued to put out inconsistent declarations on social media. Having promised Moscow on Wednesday that the Assad regime would soon see America’s “new, shiny” missiles, he backtracked yesterday, saying — incorrectly — that he had never set a time for the response.
Never said when an attack on Syria would take place. Could be very soon or not so soon at all! In any event, the United States, under my Administration, has done a great job of ridding the region of ISIS. Where is our “Thank you America?”
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 12, 2018
In fact, Trump — prompted by TV images of the victims of last Saturday’s double chemical attacks on Douma, the last opposition enclave near Syria’s capital — had indicated on Tuesday that there would be military intervention “by the end of the day” before his Wednesday tweet about delivery of the missiles.
Meanwhile, the US officials considering plans and their effects spoke of further steps before any strike on the Assad regime’s military facilities.
Defense Secretary Mattis and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Dunford are concerned with managing escalation and preventing blowback on US troops.
— Kate Brannen (@K8brannen) April 12, 2018
Two US officials “familiar with an investigation of samples from Douma and the symptoms of victims” said initial indications that a mix of weaponized chlorine gas and sarin were used appeared to be correct; however, US intelligence agencies have not completed their assessment or reached a final conclusion.
Defense Secretary James Mattis told a Congressional hearing that no decision to launch military action has been made, and suggested he was examining ways to prevent strikes from triggering a broader conflict: “I don’t want to talk about a specific attack that is not yet in the offing….This would be pre-decisional.”
UK, France Line Up
Meanwhile, British ministers indicated — after a special meeting convened by Prime Minister Theresa May on Thursday — that the UK is now ready for military action.
The Cabinet unanimously backed May’s assessment that the use of chemical weapons could not go unchallenged. The Prime Minister’s office said senior ministers agreed that it was highly likely the Assad regime was responsible for the “shocking and barbaric” assault.
Within hours of the meeting, the prime minister spoke to Donald Trump by phone about the crisis, with the two leaders agreeing to work closely together on the international response. They stressed that Syria must be prevented from launching a similar onslaught on its own people in future.
The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, accused the government of “waiting for instructions” from the US. He said: “Further UK military intervention in Syria’s appalling multi-sided war risks escalating an already devastating conflict.They said that the latest chemical attack could not go unchallenged.
In France, Emmanuel Macron said Paris has “proof” of the use of the chemical weapons by the Assad regime. He indicated that his Government would join a response to prevent any further attacks, while saying that he would decide “in due course” whether this would be through airstrikes.
Trump subsequently spoke with both May and Macron on Thursday night.
Moscow continued a mix of diversionary propaganda and disinformation, threats, and appeals to stave off strikes on its ally.
Vassily Nebenzia, Russia’s UN Ambassador, said he “cannot exclude” war between the US and Russia: “The immediate priority is to avert the danger….We hope there will be no point of no return.”
The Interfax news agency said Russian ships had left their base in Tartous in western Syria on the Mediterranean, Vladimir Shamanov, chair of the defense committee of the lower house of the Duma, said the vessels had departed for their safety.