President Trump spoke with his counterparts in Britain and France this Thursday to discuss a coordinated military response to the chemical weapon attack that killed 43 people last weekend in a Damascus suburb.
Trump and British Prime Minister Theresa May “agreed it was vital that the use of chemical weapons did not go unchallenged, and on the need to deter the further use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime,” said a spokesperson from Downing Street. “They agreed to keep working closely together on the international response.”
French President Emmanuel Macron said France was ready to attack Assad’s “chemical capabilities” and suggested that any French strikes would target chemical facilities.
Trump also met with Pentagon officials, who warned that attacking Syria could trigger a more serious conflict with Russia and Iran. “We are trying to stop the murder of innocent people, but, on a strategic level, it’s how do we keep this from escalating out of control, if you get my drift on that,” said Defense Sec. Jim Mattis.
The challenge for Trump, May, and Macron is to design a military response that will prevent Assad from using chemical weapons in the future but will not provoke a Russian response.
Russia has repeatedly cautioned the US and other countries to stay out of the way and has directly warned that it might attack the US if Trump decides to attack Syria.
“We cannot exclude any possibilities [of war between Russia and the US] unfortunately because we saw messages that are coming from Washington,” said Russian ambassador Vassily Nebenzia. “They were very bellicose.”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also warned the US against attacking Syria, but for a different reason. Erdogan has condemned Assad for the use of chemical weapons, but says he is not comfortable with the idea of other powers using Syria as an “arm-wrestling field.”
As world leaders discussed the strike, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad began moving warplanes into areas protected by sophisticated Russian air defense systems. Assad, who denies responsibility for the chemical attack, told reporters that “any possible action” from the US or others “will only cause more instability in the region and threaten international security and peace.”
Meanwhile, OPCW confirmed that its agents would be arriving in Syria Thursday or Friday to begin an investigation into the chemical attack.
A potential attack on Syria could easily be carried out by US and UK military assets already in place near Syria. According to reports, a US warship carrying 60 Tomahawk cruise missiles left Cyprus Tuesday and began sailing towards Syria. Prime Minister May ordered British submarines to move within range.