Days after he ordered the bombing of a Syrian military base, President Donald Trump said the U.S. is not going to change tack and use military intervention to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. His remarks came as the U.S.’ top diplomat said Tuesday that the Syrian leader has no future ruling the war-torn nation.
“Our policy is the same — it hasn’t changed. We’re not going into Syria,” Trump told the New York Post in an exclusive interview published Tuesday, quashing the idea that he would turn to military intervention to oust Assad.
Trump called Assad a “butcher” after his regime carried out a sarin gas attack that killed more than 80 Syrians, many of them women and children, on April 4. The president said “when you see kids choking to death, you watch their lungs burning out, we had to hit [Assad] and hit him hard.”
After the chemical attack targeting the opposition-held Idlib Province, Trump launched Friday 59 Tomahawk missiles aimed at the Syrian government’s Shayrat Airfield in Homs. Security experts said the strike was unlikely to be part of a long-term strategy to oust the leader.
Trump said the U.S. “could have gone bigger” in terms of its military response but “thought this would be the appropriate first shot.” He added that he hoped Assad “won’t do any more gassing” and said the U.S.’ “big mission is getting rid” of the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq.
Trump’s remarks came as his White House has struggled to convey a single strategy in ending Syria’s six-year civil war. Secretary of Defense James Mattis told reporters at the Pentagon Tuesday the military was prepared to act and Assad would "pay a very, very stiff price" if he uses chemical weapons again, Reuters reported.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson landed in Russia Tuesday for a series of talks with the Kremlin on how to negotiate a close to the conflict. “It is clear to all of us that the reign of the Assad family is coming to an end,” he told reporters while traveling to Moscow.
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Russia has given Assad direct military support since September 2015, and Trump has instructed Tillerson to push Russia to abandon its support for the Syrian leader during his trip. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said early Wednesday that Russia is confused about the "real intentions" of the Trump administration and its "very ambiguous" and "contradictory" ideas. An anonymous U.S. official accused Russia of being complicit in the sarin attack and helping to cover it up, the Associated Press reported Monday.
What the world needs to “understand is we can have multiple priorities,” said U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley during interviews Sunday, outlining that “getting Assad out” of power is a priority for the U.S. along with defeating ISIS.
Russia didn’t seem reassured by this. "We have seen very alarming actions recently with an unlawful attack against Syria," Lavrov said during Tillerson’s visit Wednesday. "We consider it of utmost importance to prevent the risks of replay of similar action in the future."
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