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Trump team talks more possible Syria attacks, Russia’s role

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, speaking last

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, speaking last month in Washington, D.C., said on Sunday, April 9, 2017, that he will press Russian leaders on reducing Syria's chemical weapons stockpiles during his Moscow visit. Credit: AP / Cliff Owen

Top Trump administration officials on the Sunday talk show circuit discussed the potential for more military action against Syria and vowed to pressure Russia to re-evaluate its relationship with the regime of Syrian President President Bashar al-Assad.

The remarks came after President Donald Trump ordered a missile strike Thursday on a Syrian air base. Trump said he retaliated because Assad “choked out the lives of helpless men, women and children” with banned chemical weapons.

“If he needs to do more, he will do more,” Nikki Haley, the United States’ Ambassador to the United Nations, said of Trump on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “What happens depends on how everyone responds to what happened in Syria, and make sure that we start moving toward a political solution, and we start finding peace in that area.”

National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster said on Fox News Sunday that “in fact, we are prepared to do more.”

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has scheduled a trip to Russia on Tuesday, becoming the first Trump administration official to visit the country. He said on ABC’s “This Week” that he would press Moscow on its commitment to reduce Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons.

Tillerson said he will ask Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and other officials “to fulfill the obligation it made to the international community when it agreed to be the guarantor of the elimination of the chemical weapons.”

“Why Russia has not been able to achieve that is unclear to me,” Tillerson said.

The regime of Russian President Vladimir Putin has been closely allied with that of Assad.

Haley also addressed reports that there were mixed diplomatic signals about the United States’ position toward Assad. Haley said late last month that “our priority is no longer to sit there and focus on getting Assad out.”

On Sunday, Haley said “there’s multiple priorities” and that “getting Assad out is not the only priority. And so what we’re trying to do is obviously defeat ISIS. Secondly, we don’t see a peaceful Syria with Assad in there.”

Tillerson told ABC “there is no change to our military posture” in Syria.

He reiterated on CBS’ “Face The Nation” that the administration’s “first priority is the defeat” of the Islamic State.

“And once the ISIS threat has been reduced or eliminated, I think we can turn our attention directly to stabilizing the situation in Syria,” he said.

McMaster urged Russia to answer questions about the country’s relationship with Syria.

“This is part of the problem in Syria ... Russia’s sponsorship for this murderous regime. And so we would want to appeal rationally to Russia,” McMaster said on “Fox News Sunday.” “This is a great opportunity for the Russian leadership to re-evaluate what they’re doing, why they’re supporting a regime that is committing mass murder against its own people.”

Haley on CNN questioned how the Russians can “with a straight face cover for Assad? Because, if they’re covering for Assad, then what are they really saying? They’re saying by covering for Assad that they knew that it was there, or they were incompetent by having chemical weapons there in the first place.”

Tillerson stressed, however, that he has no “hard evidence” leading him to believe Russia played an active role in the chemical attack.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) said on ABC’s “This Week” that “as long as Bashar al-Assad is in power in Syria, you will have a reason for people to be radicalized in Syria. And that’s what’s going to happen . . . This idea that somehow you can just defeat ISIS and then we’ll figure it out with Assad, it’s not going to work.”

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