The White House has declared that it believes Bashar al-Assad’s regime is preparing to carry out another chemical weapons attack, and warned that the Syrian leader and his military would “pay a heavy price” if it went ahead.
The unusual public warning on Monday night appeared to be intended to deter the regime from repeating its use of chemical weapons against rebel-held cities and towns.
It may also have been aimed at the regime’s backers in Moscow and Tehran, who have resolutely backed Assad and denied the regime’s responsibility for chemical weapons use. On Tuesday the Kremlin described the warning as an unacceptable threat.
US Central Command, which oversees operations in the Middle East, said in a statement: “For this matter, we have no information to add to what has already been stated.”
Several US news outlets quoted unnamed US military sources as saying they had been taken by surprise by the announcement and had no independent knowledge of chemical weapons preparations. However, intelligence on any such Syrian activities is likely to have been closely held.
The US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, tweeted: “Any further attacks done to the people of Syria will be blamed on Assad, but also on Russia and Iran who support him killing his own people.”
On 6 April, Donald Trump ordered a salvo of 59 Tomahawk missiles against a Syrian airbase alleged to have been the launching point for a sarin attack that killed at least 80 people three days earlier in the town of Khan Sheikhoun. Russians were present at the Shayrat base, near Homs, but US planners ensured that the missiles used in the night-time strike fell well away from the Russian compound.