U.S. plan­ning new sanc­tions against Rus­sia

Moscow’s con­tin­ued sup­port of Syria sparked move, U.S. of­fi­cial says.

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Hope Yen and Robert Burns

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump on Sun­day de­fended his use of the phrase “Mis­sion Ac­com­plished” to de­scribe a U.S.led missile attack on Syria’s chem­i­cal weapons pro­gram, even as his aides stressed con­tin­u­ing U.S. troop in­volve­ment and plans for new eco­nomic sanc­tions against Rus­sia for en­abling the gov­ern­ment of Bashar As­sad.

Step­ping up the pres­sure on Syria’s pres­i­dent, U.S. Am­bas­sador to the United Na­tions Nikki Ha­ley in­di­cated the sanc­tions to be an­nounced today would be aimed at send­ing a mes­sage to Rus­sia, which she said has blocked six at­tempts by the U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil to make it eas­ier to in­ves­ti­gate the use of chem­i­cal weapons.

“Ev­ery­one is go­ing to feel it at this point,” Ha­ley said, warn­ing of con­se­quences for As­sad’s for­eign al­lies.

“The in­ter­na­tional community will not al­low chem­i­cal weapons to come back into our ev­ery­day life,” she said. “The fact he was mak­ing this more nor­mal and that Rus­sia was cov­er­ing this up, all that has got to stop.”

In an early-morn­ing tweet, Trump said the strike was “per­fectly car­ried out” and that “the only way the Fake News Me­dia could de­mean was by my use of the term ‘Mis­sion Ac­com­plished.’ ” He added that he knew the me­dia would “seize” on the phrase, but said it should

be used of­ten. “It is such a great Mil­i­tary term, it should be brought back,” he wrote.

Trump tweeted “Mis­sion Ac­com­plished” on Satur­day af­ter U.S., French and Bri­tish war­planes and ships launched more than 100 mis­siles nearly un­op­posed by Syr­ian air de­fenses. While he de­clared suc­cess, the Pen­tagon said the pum­mel­ing of three chem­i­cal-re­lated fa­cil­i­ties left enough oth­ers in­tact to en­able the As­sad gov­ern­ment to use banned weapons against civil­ians if it chooses.

His choice of words re­called a sim­i­lar claim as­so­ci­ated with Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush af­ter the U.S.led in­va­sion of Iraq. Bush ad­dressed sailors aboard a Navy ship in May 2003 along­side a “Mis­sion Ac­com­plished” ban­ner, just weeks be­fore it be­came ap­par­ent that Iraqis had or­ga­nized an in­sur­gency that would tie down U.S. forces for years.

On Sun­day, Ha­ley made clear the United States won’t be pulling troops out of Syria right away, say­ing U.S. in­volve­ment there “is not done.”

Ha­ley said the three U.S. goals for ac­com­plish­ing its mis­sion are mak­ing sure chem­i­cal weapons are not used in a way that could harm U.S. na­tional in­ter­ests; that the Is­lamic State group is de­feated; and that there is a good van­tage point to watch what Iran is do­ing.

“We’re not go­ing to leave un­til we know we’ve ac­com­plished those things,” she said.

Ha­ley said the joint mil­i­tary strike “put a heavy blow into their chem­i­cal weapons pro­gram, set­ting them back years” and re­it­er­ated that if As­sad uses poi­son gas again, “the United States is locked and loaded.”

The night­time as­sault was care­fully lim­ited to min­i­mize civil­ian ca­su­al­ties and avoid di­rect con­flict with Rus­sia in Syria, but con­fu­sion arose over the ex­tent to which Washington warned Moscow in ad­vance. The Pen­tagon said it gave no ex­plicit warn­ing. The U.S. am­bas­sador in Moscow, John Hunts­man, said in a video, “Be­fore we took ac­tion, the United States com­mu­ni­cated with” Rus­sia to “re­duce the dan­ger of any Rus­sian or civil­ian ca­su­al­ties.”

Rus­sia has mil­i­tary forces, in­clud­ing air de­fenses, in sev­eral ar­eas of Syria to sup­port As­sad in his long war against anti-gov­ern­ment rebels.

Rus­sia and Iran called the use of force by the United States and its French and Bri­tish al­lies a “mil­i­tary crime” and “act of ag­gres­sion.” The U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil met to de­bate the strikes, but re­jected a Rus­sian res­o­lu­tion call­ing for con­dem­na­tion of the “ag­gres­sion” by the three Western al­lies.

As­sad de­nies he has used chem­i­cal weapons, and the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has yet to present hard ev­i­dence of what it says pre­cip­i­tated the al­lied mis­siles attack: a chlo­rine gas attack on civil­ians in Douma on April 7. The U.S. says it sus­pects that sarin gas also was used.

“Good souls will not be hu­mil­i­ated,” As­sad tweeted, while hun­dreds of Syr­i­ans gath­ered in Damascus, the cap­i­tal, where they flashed vic­tory signs and waved flags in scenes of de­fi­ance af­ter the early morn­ing bar­rage.

The strikes “suc­cess­fully hit ev­ery tar­get,” said Dana W. White, the chief Pen­tagon spokes­woman. The mil­i­tary said there were three tar­gets: the Barzah chem­i­cal weapons re­search and de­vel­op­ment site in the Damascus area, a chem­i­cal weapons stor­age fa­cil­ity near Homs and a chem­i­cal weapons “bunker” a few miles from the se­cond tar­get.

Although of­fi­cials said the sin­gu­lar tar­get was As­sad’s chem­i­cal weapons ca­pa­bil­ity, his air force, in­clud­ing he­li­copters he al­legedly has used to drop chem­i­cal weapons on civil­ians, were spared. In a U.S. mil­i­tary ac­tion a year ago in re­sponse to a sarin gas attack, the Pen­tagon said mis­siles took out nearly 20 per­cent of the Syr­ian air force.

The U.S.-led op­er­a­tion won broad Western sup­port. The NATO al­liance gave its full back­ing; NATO Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral Jens Stoltenberg said in Brus­sels that the attack was about en­sur­ing that chem­i­cal weapons can­not be used with im­punity.

In his tele­vised ad­dress from the White House on Fri­day evening, Trump said the U.S. was pre­pared to keep up the eco­nomic, diplo­matic and mil­i­tary pres­sure on As­sad un­til he ends what Trump called a crim­i­nal pat­tern of killing his own peo­ple with in­ter­na­tion­ally banned chem­i­cal weapons. That did not mean mil­i­tary strikes would con­tinue. In fact, Gen. Joseph Dun­ford, chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said no ad­di­tional at­tacks were planned.

Asked about Trump’s “Mis­sion Ac­com­plished” as­ser­tion, White said it pointed to the suc­cess­ful tar­get­ing of three Syr­ian chem­i­cal weapons sites. What hap­pens next, she said, is up to As­sad and to his Rus­sian and Ira­nian al­lies.

HAS­SAN AM­MAR / AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

A Syr­ian sol­dier on Satur­day films the dam­age to the Syr­ian Sci­en­tific Re­search Cen­ter near Damascus, which was hit by U.S., Bri­tish and French airstrikes to pun­ish Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad for a sus­pected chem­i­cal attack against civil­ians that left more than 40 peo­ple dead. As­sad de­nies re­spon­si­bil­ity for the attack.

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