WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump reaffirmed his vow to destroy the militant Islamic State group and “protect civilisation” during a White House press conference on Wednesday.
Speaking after talks with Jordan’s King Abdullah, Trump predicted that the campaign against IS in Syria and Iraq will be “a shorter fight than a lot of people are thinking about, believe me.”
“We will destroy ISIS, and we will protect civilisation. We have no choice,” he said, using an alternate acronym for IS. Decrying an “affront to humanity,” President Donald Trump declared on Wednesday that a chemical weapons attack in Syria “cannot be tolerated” but did not say what the U.S. might do in response. He blamed the attack squarely on Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Trump, speaking alongside Jordan’s King Abdullah II in the Rose Garden, offered no details about what steps the US might take in response, even as his UN ambassador, Nikki Haley, was promising a strong and perhaps even unilateral response. But Trump said the attack was “so horrific” and noted that it had killed “innocent people, small children and even beautiful little babies.” “These heinous actions by the Assad regime cannot be tolerated,” Trump said.
He said the US stood with its global allies “to condemn this horrific attack.” The United States and Russia were trading conflicting assertions about who launched a chemical weapons attack in Syria that killed 72 people, as world leaders grasped for a response to the latest atrocity in Syria’s intractable civil war. A US official said an American review of radar and other assessments showed Syrian aircraft flying in the area at the time of the attack. Russian and coalition aircraft were not there at that time, said the official, who wasn’t authorised to discuss intelligence publicly and requested anonymity. Washington hasn’t yet concluded what type of chemical was used.
On Tuesday, President Donald Trump split the blame between Syria’s embattled leader and former President Barack Obama for the country’s worst chemical weapons attack in years.
While calling the attack “reprehensible” and intolerable, Trump said Obama “did nothing” after Assad crossed the former US leader’s “red line” in 2013.
“These heinous actions by the Bashar al-Assad regime are a consequence of the past administration’s weakness and irresolution,” Trump said.
The political tone of Trump’s statement took many US officials by surprise. They noted that US presidents have rarely attacked their predecessors so aggressively for events like chemical weapons attacks that Democrats and Republicans both abhor.
Several officials involved in internal administration discussions said Trump’s National Security Council had been preparing a different statement, until the president’s closest advisers took over the process. The officials weren’t authorised to speak publicly on the matter and demanded anonymity.
The president’s eldest daughter and top adviser, Ivanka Trump, took a more compassionate tone, tweeting Wednesday, “Heartbroken and outraged by the images coming out of Syria following the atrocious chemical attack yesterday.” At least 72 people died in the town of Khan Sheikhoun. The World Health Organisation said victims seemed to show symptoms consistent with nerve agent exposure. Videos from the scene showed volunteer medics using firehoses to wash the chemicals from victims’ bodies and lifeless children being piled in heaps.
A flurry of activity across the US government signalled fresh urgency on the Syria crisis. Days earlier, White House and others officials suggested removing Assad from power was no longer a priority. They said the focus was defeating the militant Islamic State group.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson planned to discuss the attack and the Syria crisis next week when he makes his first official trip to Moscow, the State Department said.
For Trump’s critics, though, it wasn’t enough. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., criticized the White House by noting that Trump hadn’t mentioned Russian President Vladimir Putin or Russia’s role in the US response. Tillerson accused both Russia and Iran, Syria’s other top ally, of sharing moral responsibility in his own statement on Tuesday.