PALM BEACH, Fla. — The United States is vowing to keep up the pressure on Syria after the intense nighttime wave of missile strikes from US ships, despite the prospect of escalating Russian ill will that could further inflame one of the world’s most vexing conflicts.
Standing firm, the Trump administration on Friday signaled new sanctions would soon follow the missile attack, and the Pentagon was even probing whether Russia itself was involved in the chemical weapons assault that compelled President Donald Trump to action. The attack against a Syrian air base was the first US assault against the government of President Bashar Al-Assad.
Much of the international community rallied behind Trump’s decision to fire the cruise missiles in reaction to this week’s chemical weapons attack that killed dozens of men, women and children in Syria. But a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that the strikes dealt “a significant blow” to relations between Moscow and Washington.
US officials blame Moscow for propping up Assad.
“The world is waiting for the Russian government to act responsibly in Syria,” Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, said during an emergency Security Council session.
“The world is waiting for Russia to reconsider its misplaced alliance with Bashar Assad.”
Haley said the US was prepared to take further action in Syria but hoped it wouldn’t be necessary.
In Florida with the president, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said additional economic sanctions on Syria were being prepared.
Thursday night’s strikes — some 60 cruise missiles fired from two ships in the Mediterranean — were the culmination of a rapid, three-day transformation for Trump, who has long opposed deeper US involvement in Syria’s civil war. Advisers said he was outraged by heartbreaking images of young children who were among the dozens killed in the chemical attack.
White House officials caution that Trump is not preparing to plunge the US deeper into Syria. Spokesman Sean Spicer said the missile attack sent a clear message to Assad, but he avoided explicitly calling for the Syrian to leave office.
The impact of the strikes was also unclear. Despite intense international pressure, Assad has clung to power since a civil war broke out in his country six years ago, helped by financial and military support from both Russia and Iran. Russian military personnel and aircraft are embedded with Syria’s, and Iranian troops and paramilitary forces are also on the ground helping Assad fight the array of opposition groups hoping to topple him.
Trump spent Friday in Florida, in private meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping. US officials noted that the timing of the strike had the possible added benefit of signaling to China that Trump is willing to make good on his threat to act alone to stop North Korea’s nuclear pursuits if Beijing doesn’t exert more pressure on Pyongyang.
The missile strikes hit the government-controlled Shayrat air base in central Syria, where US officials say the Syrian military planes that dropped the chemicals had taken off.
Trump’s decision to strike Syria won widespread praise from other nations. — AP