WASHINGTON – US President Donald Trump said on Wednesday he was shaken by images of chemical weapons used on children in Syria and would shift his policy approach to its leader, Bashar Assad, just days after the administration signaled it would no longer work toward his ouster.
Trump’s comments, made alongside Jordan’s King Abdullah II at the White House, mark a critical moment in his young presidency amid comparisons drawn to a similarly trying moment in 2013, when Barack Obama grappled with a massive chemical attack against civilians in a Damascus suburb.
At that time, Obama threatened to take military action, but he ultimately brokered a deal that ostensibly rid Assad of the largest chemical weapons stockpile in the Middle East. Then a private citizen, Trump commented that Obama should stay out of Syria. And Trump proceeded to campaign for president on a promise to stay out of the civil war there that has claimed an estimated 500,000 lives and displaced 10 million.
But “my attitude toward Syria and Assad had changed,” Trump said on Wednesday. “It crossed a lot of lines for me...
beyond a redline.”
Trump said he would not preview any potential US military action, but strongly suggested he would consider punishing the Assad regime for the attack in Idlib province, which US, British and French officials say came from Assad’s air force.
“It is now my responsibility,” Trump continued. “These heinous acts by the Assad regime cannot be tolerated.” He spoke from the Rose Garden shortly after the UN Security Council convened for an emergency session over the attack, called by the French.
“This was a sustained attack over a number of hours,” Britain’s Ambassador Matthew Rycroft told the council. “There is only one air force that has used such weapons.”
US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley held up photos of children frozen in death by nerve agents, and slammed Moscow for aiding and abetting the Assad regime.
Russia and Iran “have no interest in peace,” she said, after the Russian ambassador shot down any hope for a new resolution condemning Assad for the strike proposed by the US, Britain and France.
“At this stage, we don’t see a particular need to adopt a resolution,” the Russian envoy said.
The Russians claim that Assad’s air force struck a warehouse of chemical material stored by rebel terrorists. Their envoy said both that insurgents were responsible for chemical attacks, and that videos of chemical weapons victims were staged by nongovernmental organizations.