WASHINGTON — Senior White House officials accused Russia on Tuesday of attempting to confuse the narrative or cover-up the events behind the Syrian chemical attack.
Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime is aligned with that of Vladimir Putin.
“It’s clear that the Russians are trying to cover up what happened there,” an official told reporters, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
The official said declassified U.S. intelligence disputes Kremlin narratives, including one describing the April 4 poison gas attack as the result of an explosion after a strike on a Syrian munitions depot where terrorists were holding chemicals.
The attack killed dozens of Syrian civilians, including children, and led President Donald Trump to retaliate by dropping 59 missiles on a Syrian airfield shared by Russians.
The Trump administration has ramped up its rhetoric against both Assad and Putin in recent days.
Another senior White House official speaking anonymously said it is worth asking the Russians how it’s possible that they “did not have foreknowledge” of the gas bomb if Russian forces “were co-located with the Syrian forces that planned, prepared, and carried out a chemical weapons attack.”
But later Tuesday, asked whether the Trump administration believes Russia had advance knowledge of the chemical attack or was complicit, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporters, “There’s no consensus within the intelligence community that there was involvement.”
Asked the same question at a separate briefing, Secretary of Defense James Mattis responded, “It was very clear that the Assad regime planned it, orchestrated it, and executed it. And beyond that, we can’t say right now.”
A senior official speaking anonymously said the administration is certain Assad’s government and not the Islamic State carried out the attack, because the Islamic State isn’t believed to have sarin gas stores.
“We are very confident that terrorists or non-state actors did not commit this particular attack,” the official said.
Spicer said Trump has made it clear that if the administration can “get a deal with Russia in our national interest . . . then we’re going to do it. But if we can’t get a deal and if we can’t find an area of national interest, then we won’t.”
Mattis said the administration’s policy in Syria “has not changed. Our priority remains the defeat of ISIS.”
Meanwhile, Turkey’s health minister said Tuesday that test results confirm sarin gas was used in the attack and the Russian military said the Syrian government is willing to let international experts examine its military base for signs of chemical weapons.
Col. Gen. Sergei Rudskoy of the Russian General Staff said in televised remarks that Russia will provide security for international inspectors seeking to examine Syrian bases, and that Damascus has agreed to allow the inspections.
With The Associated Press