Trump administration officials consulted with global allies Tuesday on a possible joint military response to Syria’s alleged poison gas attack, as President Donald Trump cancelled a foreign trip in order to manage a crisis that is testing his vow to stand up to Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Trump spoke with other world leaders, and other US officials said the US, France and Britain were in extensive consultations about launching a military strike as early as the end of this week. None of the three countries’ leaders had made a firm decision, according to the officials, who were not authorised to discuss military planning by name.
A joint military operation, possibly with France rather than the US in the lead, could send a message of international unity about enforcing the prohibitions on chemical weapons and counter Syria’s political and military support from Russia and Iran.President Emmanuel Macron said France, the US and Britain will decide how to respond in the coming days. He called for a “strong and joint response” to the attack in the Syrian town of Douma on Saturday, which Syrian activists and rescuers say killed 40 people. The Syrian government denies responsibility.
The French president does not need parliamentary permission to launch a military operation. France is already involved in the US-led coalition created in 2014 to fight the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq. Multiple IS attacks have targeted French soil, including one last month.
Trump suggested Monday he had little doubt that Syrian government forces were to blame for what he said was a chemical attack, but neither he nor other administration officials have produced hard evidence. Officials suggested such evidence was lacking, or at least not yet at hand. This is in contrast to an incident one year ago in which U.S. intelligence agencies had video and other evidence of certain aspects of the actual attack, which involved the use of Sarin gas. Trump responded by launching Navy cruise missiles at a Syrian airfield.
One official said the U.S., France and Britain were considering military options that would be more extensive than the punitive, one-day strike last April. That strike did not appear to have had the desired effect of deterring Assad from further use of chemical agents. So the three countries are discussing a range of options, including preventing Assad from conducting future attacks by striking military capabilities involved in carrying out such attack, the official said.
Asked whether France would take military action, Macron said his country will continue discussing technical and strategic information with U.S. and British allies and “in the coming days we will announce our decision.” He said any action would “target chemical weapons” stocks. Under a 2013 agreement for which Russia was a guarantor, Syria was to have eliminated all its chemical weapons, but it has used chlorine and perhaps other chemicals since then.