Mattis Insists Syrian Regime Responsible For Chemical Attacks On Citizens

Syria top of the agenda as G7 ministers meet in Italy

AP FACT CHECK: Doubts persisted on Syria chemical weapons

Secretary of Defense James Mattis said Tuesday that America's top priority in Syria remained fighting the Islamic State of Syria and Iraq, but he made it clear the use of chemical weapons would not be tolerated and could warrant additional military actions like last week's missile strike against a Syrian air base. Jabbing at USA credibility, the Russian leader reminded reporters about unfounded US claims of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, used to justify America's 2003 invasion.

A senior United States official said Moscow is trying to "confuse the world", while Mattis said Washington is certain Assad is to blame. Mattis said Assad will "pay a very, very stiff price" if he chooses to use chemical weapons again.

"ISIS represents a clear and present danger and immediate threat to Europe and ultimately a threat to the United States homeland", he said.

"So I am dismayed that Russian Federation has once again blocked the UN Security Council and in so doing refused to condemn the use of chemical weapons or support a full UN investigation into the attack". The US response was to launch a cruise missile attack at a Syrian airfield raising global tensions.

But Putin has said there is no evidence that Assad forces carried out the recent nerve gas attack and instead the chemicals belonged to rebels.

Back at the White House, Spicer effectively gave Moscow an ultimatum: choose better relations with Trump administration or its relations with nations that pursue policies contrary to United States interests.

The United Nations Security Council will vote today on a draft resolution demanding that the Syrian government cooperate with a probe of the suspected chemical attack, that took place last week in Idlib province, U.S. diplomats said.

He is due to meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow on Wednesday.

Yet his heartfelt response to horrific images of gassed children in Syria, and decision to launch military action, appeared to completely reverse his stated foreign policy intentions.

Early expectations of an easy rapport between the Trump administration and Russian Federation are crashing into reality as U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has a fraught meeting in Moscow beset by escalating allegations over Syria.

He says Russian Federation can play a role in Syria's future but that aligning with Assad won't serve Russia's long-term interests.


Putin seems undeterred. Hours after Tillerson's warning, his office announced Russian Federation would host Syria and Iran's foreign ministers for a three-way meeting Friday, the day after Tillerson departs.

The White House said there was a "level of cooperation" between Mr Assad and Russian Federation that is indicative of collusion if not "foreknowledge" of the attack.

Trump spent months on the campaign trail castigating his predecessors for getting sucked into a Middle East quagmires, and had even attempted to close the door to refugees from Syria in his executive orders imposing a travel ban, which have been stayed by the courts.

"Russia's initiative in 2013 to dismantle Syria's chemical weapons has been exposed as a shambles".

In Italy, Tillerson attempted to rally the world s leading economies behind fresh sanctions against Assad s regime but, despite much outrage over the Khan Sheikhun killings, he failed to win consensus.

But Tillerson and Mattis did go some way towards clarifying the USA position on Syria, which had become muddled by apparently conflicting statements from senior officials in Trump s administration about Assad s fate.

G7 efforts to build a united front against Assad comes just ahead of Tillerson's trip to Moscow, the first for a high-ranking Trump administration official.

"Our hope is Bashar al-Assad will not be part of that future", he said.

"But the question of how that ends and the transition itself could be very important in our view to the durability, the stability inside of a unified Syria".

The text expresses the council's full backing for investigators from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the joint UN-OPCW investigative panel tasked with determining who is responsible for such attacks.

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