Assad must go after chemical attack: US envoy

Assad must go after chemical attack: US envoy

A Syrian refugee girl holds her brother as she walks at an informal refugee camp, at Al-Marj town in Bekaa valley, east Lebanon Lebanon. — AP

Beirut — Washington’s UN ambassador said that Syria’s President Bashar Al-Assad cannot stay in power after a suspected chemical attack that prompted the first direct US military action against his government.

Nikki Haley’s comments in an interview aired Sunday came as part of an apparent shift in US policy towards Assad’s government after the alleged chemical attack last week on the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhun that killed 87 people, including many children.

Images of civilians suffering the apparent effects of a gas attack, including convulsions, vomiting and foaming at the mouth, provoked international outrage and prompted US President Donald Trump to order a strike on a Syrian airbase.

In the interview with CNN, Haley said peace in Syria was impossible with Assad in power.

“There’s not any sort of option where a political solution is going to happen with Assad at the head of the regime,” she told the “State of the Union” program.

“If you look at his actions, if you look at the situation, it’s going to be hard to see a government that’s peaceful and stable with Assad.”

“Regime change is something that we think is going to happen,” she said, adding that Washington was also focused on fighting the Islamic State group in Syria and ending Iranian influence.

After years of calling for Assad’s removal during former president Barack Obama’s tenure, Washington appeared to be stepping back from seeking regime change in Syria in recent weeks.

Prior to the attack in Khan Sheikhun, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Assad’s fate should be decided by the Syrian people, suggesting Washington would not oppose him standing for reelection.

And Haley too said Washington’s priority was “no longer to sit and focus on getting Assad out.”

But in the aftermath of the attack, Trump ordered the strike targeting the Shayrat air base in central Syria’s Homs province with 59 Tomahawk missiles.

And his administration informed Congress that it could “take additional action, as necessary and appropriate, to further its important national interests.”

Moscow on Sunday also slammed Britain after Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson cancelled a trip over Russian support for Assad.

The British have “no real influence,” Russia’s foreign ministry said.

More than 320,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict began, and strikes have continued since the suspected chemical attack.

On Saturday, one woman was killed in an air strike on Khan Sheikhun, the Observatory said.

New strikes hit outside the town on Sunday, with no immediate reports of casualties, the monitor added. — AFP