Rus­sia, Iran re­ject U.S. warn­ing on Syr­ian chem­i­cal strike.

Syria will pay ‘heavy price’ if it fol­lows through on at­tack

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY CARLO MUNOZ

The Trump White House’s stern warn­ing to Syria against a new chem­i­cal at­tack has be­come the lat­est ir­ri­tant in the trou­bled U.S.-Rus­sia re­la­tion­ship, with the Krem­lin rush­ing to the de­fense of its Syr­ian ally Tues­day and ac­cus­ing Wash­ing­ton of in­sti­gat­ing vi­o­lence against the regime in Da­m­as­cus.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer late Mon­day night is­sued the un­usual state­ment, cit­ing re­cent in­tel­li­gence show­ing gov­ern­ment forces loyal to Syr­ian President Bashar As­sad ap­peared to be pre­par­ing a new chem­i­cal at­tack. The strike, ac­cord­ing to the White House, would be on a par with the at­tack launched by the As­sad regime against anti-gov­ern­ment forces near Idlib in April that pro­voked a re­tal­ia­tory cruise mis­sile strike ordered by President Trump.

White House of­fi­cials vowed that Da­m­as­cus would “pay a heavy price” should it fol­low through with a sec­ond chem­i­cal strike against rebel forces in the coun­try.

But as Syria de­nied it was plan­ning any chem­i­cal strike, Krem­lin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told a con­fer­ence call of re­porters in Moscow on Tues­day, “I am not aware of any in­for­ma­tion about a threat that chem­i­cal weapons can be used.”

“Cer­tainly, we con­sider such threats to the le­git­i­mate lead­er­ship of the Syr­ian Arab Repub­lic un­ac­cept­able,” Mr. Peskov said.

The White House state­ment said Rus­sia and Iran, Mr. As­sad’s other ma­jor ally, would share the re­spon­si­bil­ity if a new chem­i­cal at­tack on the regime’s en­e­mies is launched.

“The goal is at this point not just to send As­sad a mes­sage, but to send Rus­sia and Iran a mes­sage,” U.S. U.N. Am­bas­sador Nikki Ha­ley told a House hear­ing Tues­day. “... My hope is that the president’s warn­ing will cer­tainly get Iran and Rus­sia to take a sec­ond look, and I hope that it will cau­tion As­sad.”

Iran also re­sponded sharply to the U.S. warn­ing, say­ing it could un­der­mine the fight to de­feat Is­lamic State and other ji­hadist groups in Syria. For­eign Min­is­ter Javad Zarif tweeted that the U.S. state­ment was based on a “fake pre­text” and added that it “will only serve ISIS, pre­cisely when it’s be­ing wiped out by Iraqi and Syr­ian peo­ple.”

In Bri­tain, De­fense Sec­re­tary Michael Fal­lon voiced his sup­port for the White House stand, cit­ing the lim­ited but ef­fec­tive U.S. re­sponse to the last sus­pected Syria use of chem­i­cal weapons.

“As al­ways in war, the mil­i­tary ac­tion you use must be jus­ti­fied, it must be le­gal, it must be pro­por­tion­ate, it must be nec­es­sary, [and] in the last case it was,” Mr. Fal­lon told re­porters in Lon­don. “If the Amer­i­cans take sim­i­lar ac­tion again, I want to be clear, we will sup­port it.”

Mr. Fal­lon plans to dis­cuss pos­si­ble joint mil­i­tary re­sponses to Syria with Pen­tagon chief James Mat­tis later this week at NATO head­quar­ters in Brus­sels.

White House of­fi­cials de­clined to de­tail the in­tel­li­gence show­ing a chem­i­cal at­tack by the regime was im­mi­nent, nor how the U.S. would re­spond. Of­fi­cials from U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand told Buz­zFeed shortly after the an­nounce­ment that they did not know of any ex­ist­ing in­tel­li­gence or in­for­ma­tion that would lead the ad­min­is­tra­tion to make such an an­nounce­ment. State De­part­ment of­fi­cials also were not aware the new warn­ing was in the works, the Los An­ge­les Times re­ported.

How­ever, U.S. in­tel­li­gence have re­port­edly de­tected ac­tiv­ity at the Al Shayrat air base con­sis­tent with prepa­ra­tions for a chem­i­cal at­tack. It was the same base from which U.S. in­tel­li­gence said the April chem­i­cal at­tack was launched.

“This in­volved spe­cific air­craft in a spe­cific hangar, both of which we know to be as­so­ci­ated with chem­i­cal weapons use,” Pen­tagon spokesman Cpt. Jeff Davis said.

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