The Syrian government dismissed the White House’s unsubstantiated, and bizarrely ominous late Monday night allegations that it was preparing a new chemical weapons attack. According to AP, Ali Haidar, the Syrian minister for national reconciliation, dismissed the White House’s warning and said it foreshadowed a diplomatic campaign against Syria at the U.N., according to the AP. Or maybe military campaign.
The Kremlin also dismissed the White House statement, which had warned that Assad and his military would “pay a heavy price” if it goes ahead with the attack. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that “such threats to Syria’s legitimate leaders are unacceptable.”
Peskov also criticized the Trump administration for using the phrase “another chemical weapons attack,” arguing that an independent investigation into the April attack was never conducted despite Russia’s calls for one. The US has so far not explained why it is against an impartial third party determining all the facts.
A senior Russian lawmaker dismissed the U.S. warning as “provocation.” Frants Klintsevich, first deputy chairman of the defense and security committee in the upper chamber of the Russian parliament, accused the United States of “preparing a new attack on the positions of Syrian forces.” The U.S. strike in April was the first direct American assault on the Syrian government and Trump’s most dramatic military order since becoming president. Trump said at the time that the chemical attack crossed “many, many lines,” and called on “all civilized nations” to join the U.S. in seeking an end to the carnage in Syria.
Syria denied using chemical weapons. Russia’s Defense Ministry said the toxic agents were released when a Syrian airstrike hit a rebel chemical weapons arsenal and munitions factory.
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As reported earlier, the statement by White House spokesman Sean Spicer said the U.S. had “identified potential preparations for another chemical weapons attack by the Assad regime that would likely result in the mass murder of civilians, including innocent children.” He said the activities were similar to preparations taken before the attack in April, but provided no evidence or further explanation.
Several State Department officials typically involved in coordinating such announcements said they were caught completely off guard by the warning, which didn’t appear to have been discussed in advance with other national security agencies. Typically, the State Department, the Pentagon and U.S. intelligence agencies would all be consulted before the White House issued a declaration sure to ricochet across foreign capitals. The officials weren’t authorized to discuss national security planning publicly and requested anonymity.
The bizarre sequence of events when it comes to foreign policy and potential military action has prompted some to speculate whether and if Trump is even in control of US foreign policy or if all control has been relinquished to the deep state.
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As AP adds, also on Monday, Trump had dinner with Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and other top officials as he hosted Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the White House. Tillerson and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov talked earlier Monday about the need to secure a cease-fire in Syria, fight extremist groups and prevent the use of chemical weapons, the Russian Foreign Ministry said. It looks as if those talks were not particularly fruitful.