WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Monday, “nothing is off the table,” as his administration weighs its response to the recent deadly chemical attack in Syria that killed dozens.
Trump, speaking to reporters at the White House, before meeting with his Cabinet, said his administration would make a “major decision” on the United States’ next move in Syria within the next 24 to 48 hours.
“We are very concerned,” Trump said. “When a thing like this can happen — this is about humanity . . . and it can’t be allowed to happen.”
Addressing reporters before a Monday evening meeting with his top military advisers, Trump said his administration would be announcing its next move “pretty soon,” before adding the news would “probably come after the fact.”
The president, who described the attack that killed dozens of adults and children in the rebel-held suburb of Douma as “atrocious” and “horrible,” said the U.S. was working to determine who was responsible. He criticized Syrian officials for not allowing international observers into the area of the attack, and vowed that “everybody’s going to pay a price.”
“If it’s Russia, if it’s Syria, if it’s Iran, if it’s all of them together, we’ll figure it out,” Trump said.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, speaking to reporters earlier in the day at the Pentagon, placed some of the blame on Russia, which he suggested had not done enough to uphold a 2013 agreement between the U.S. and Russia that called for the elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons program.
Mattis, when asked if the U.S. would consider responding with airstrikes against Syria, as was done last year in response to another toxic gas attack, said: “I don’t rule out anything right now.”
Syrian President Bashar Assad has denied any involvement in the attacks, and Russia’s foreign ministry has also dismissed suggestions of its involvement.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Monday that Russian first aid workers had toured the Douma site and found no “trace of chlorine or any other chemical substance used against civilians.”
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, when asked at Monday’s daily press briefing about Russia’s assertions, said the president was “confident” chemical weapons were used based on the information provided by his national security team.
Further fueling tensions in Syria, an overnight airstrike on a Syrian air base killed more than a dozen people including several Iranian nationals, according to media reports. Pentagon officials have said the United States was not behind the strike. Russian and Syrian officials have blamed Israel, saying Israeli jets fired missiles from Lebanese airspace. Israel’s foreign ministry has declined to comment, according to The Associated Press.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, speaking at an unrelated news conference on Long Island, said President Trump was right to strongly condemn what he called Assad’s “horrific and barbaric” use of chemical weapons in Syria.
But Schumer (D-N.Y.) warned against allowing America to be pulled into another protracted and costly a war.
Trump, last week said he was prepared to bring home troops in Syria, citing inroads in defeating ISIS strongholds in the conflict-torn country. The president has since come under criticism from some Republican lawmakers, including Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who say the president’s comments emboldened Assad to strike.
“Last week he was talking about withdrawing troops; this week he is talking about a strike,” Schumer said. “We need a coherent approach. But that approach should not get us into a protracted war in Syria. We have enough problems here at home.”
With Martin C. Evans