Syrian President Bashar al-Assad should have “no role” in the future of the country after launching a poison gas attack earlier this week in Idlib province, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in remarks on Thursday.
“Assad’s role in the future is uncertain, clearly, and with the acts that he has taken, it would seem that there would be no role for him to govern the Syrian people,” Tillerson asserted, The Hill reported.
Tillerson’s remarks mark a sharp departure from a statement he made last week. “I think the status and the longer-term status of President Assad will be decided by the Syrian people,” the secretary said at the time. Now the Trump administration is reported to be considering possible military responses to the latest chemical weapons attack attributed to the Assad regime.
Tillerson’s change of heart follows harsh criticisms of Assad by President Donald Trump and United States Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley. Trump, at a joint press conference with Jordan’s King Abdullah on Wednesday, said that the chemical attack “crossed many, many lines” and that his own view of Assad had consequently “changed very much.”
Haley urged the UN Security Council—which includes Russia, a stalwart protector of Syria with a veto—to take action or risk U.S. intervention. “There are times in the life of states that we are compelled to take our own action,” she warned.
Defense Secretary James Mattis is set to brief Trump Thursday on available military options that could be taken against the Assad regime, NBC News reported.
Options Mattis is expected to recommend include:
– Grounding all Syrian aircraft
– Strikes against Syrian air defenses
– Standoff strikes
– Targeted strikes against those responsible for the chemical attack in Idlib
The Pentagon has concerns that taking action against Assad could endanger American troops fighting the Islamic State in eastern Syria and elsewhere in the region. Syria also possesses an air defense system that could hit planes operating in its airspace.
Two U.S. military officials told NBC that Syrian fixed wing aircraft were detected in the vicinity of the gas attack on Tuesday. Radar registered them dropping bombs, and then civilians were observed acting in a manner that suggested that they suffered the effects of a chemical weapons attack. According to the officials, two chemical agents are believed to have been used and neither was chlorine. The Turkish health ministry issued a statement Thursday that the banned and deadly nerve agent sarin was used based on examinations of some of the victims of the attack.
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