Trump threatens Syria strike, suggests Russia shares blame


WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump threatened an imminent military strike against Syria Monday night, vowing to respond “forcefully” to Saturday’s apparent chemical weapons attack on civilians and warning that Russia or any other nation found to share responsibility will “pay a price.”

As he began an evening meeting with military leaders at the White House, Trump promised to “make a decision tonight or very shortly thereafter.” He said, “We have a lot of options militarily, and we’ll be letting you know pretty soon. Probably after the fact.”

The White House sharply rejected any suggestion that Trump’s own words about pulling U.S. troops out of Syria had opened the door for the attack, which killed more than 40 people, including children.

Trump, asked at midday whether Russian President Vladimir Putin bore any responsibility for the weekend attack, responded, “He may, yeah, he may. And if he does it’s going to be very tough, very tough.” He added, “Everybody’s gonna pay a price. He will. Everybody will.”

Then, during the meeting with top military leaders, he said the weekend assault “will be met and it will be met forcefully.” Those at the meeting included Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford.

Amid the tough talk at the White House, the U.S. military appeared to be in position to carry out any attack order. A Navy destroyer, the USS Donald Cook, was underway in the eastern Mediterranean after completing a port call in Cyprus. The guided missile destroyer is armed with Tomahawk cruise missiles, the weapon of choice in a U.S. attack one year ago on an airfield in Syria following an alleged sarin gas attack on civilians.

The Russian military, which has a presence in Syria as a key Assad ally, said its officers had visited the weekend site in a suburb of Damascus, the Syrian capital, and found no evidence to back up reports of poison gas being used. Russia’s U.N. ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, accused Washington of deliberately stoking international tensions by threatening Russia in a tone “beyond the threshold of what is acceptable, even during the Cold War.”

Trump said there was little question that Syria was responsible for the apparent weekend attack, although the government of President Bashar Assad denied it. “To me there’s not much of a doubt, but the generals will figure it out,” Trump said.

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