Monday, April 16, 2018
The United States will place more sanctions on Russia this week related to its support for Syria's chemical weapons program, according to Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
Speaking Sunday on CBS News' Face the Nation, Haley said U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin plans to announce sanctions targeting Russian companies that have helped the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad make and deploy chemical weapons like those that were allegedly used in Douma, a Damascus suburb, on April 7. The attack, which killed more than 40 civilians, spurred the United States, France and Britain to launch more than 100 missiles at Syria over the weekend.
"Russian sanctions will be coming down," Haley said. "Secretary Mnuchin will be announcing those [today], if he hasn't already, and they will go directly to any sort of companies that were dealing with equipment related to Assad and chemical weapons use. I think everyone is going to feel it at this point. I think everyone knows that we sent a strong message, and our hope is that they listen to it."
President Donald Trump's administration has placed sanctions on Russian individuals and entities, including penalties last month targeting Russian oligarchs who are close to President Vladimir Putin. But the rollout of new sanctions is usually closely guarded, in part to prevent people subjected to them from quickly moving their money around. There was no immediate comment from the Treasury Department.
The U.S. has also expelled Russian diplomats and sanctioned Russia for a suspected nerve-agent attack against a former spy in Britain and other actions. Syria has refused to negotiate an end to the civil war that is now in its seventh year, and it's time for Russia, a Syrian ally, to make that happen, Haley said.
Haley also criticized Russia on Fox News Sunday, accusing it of enabling the Syrian government to use chemical weapons without worrying about blowback at the United Nations. Russia has vetoed at least six resolutions in the U.N. Security Council regarding chemical weapons. The U.S. and other nations, in turn, have vetoed a Russian resolution calling for condemnation of the "aggression" by the U.S., France and Britain.
"Assad knew that Russia had its back, Assad knew that Russia would cover for them at the United Nations, and Assad got reckless, and he used it in a way that was far more aggressive," she said. "We have to be conscious of the fact that we can't allow even the smallest use of chemical weapons."
Haley declined to say how the U.S. would respond if Syria uses conventional weapons. But she repeated a comment she made Saturday at an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council in New York, saying the U.S. is "locked and loaded" and ready to punish Syria again if it continues using chemical weapons.
The aim, she said, is "to see American troops come home, but we are not going to leave until we know we have accomplished those things."
Syria, however, is interpreting the airstrikes as a victory for Assad, arguing that the limited scope of the strikes suggests that Western powers do not intend to challenge his rule.
Assad on Sunday appeared briefly on state TV meeting with visiting Russian lawmakers, telling them the strikes were accompanied by a campaign of "lies and misinformation" against Syria and Russia in the U.N. Security Council.
"President Assad was in absolutely positive spirits. He is in a good mood," the Interfax news agency quoted Natalya Komarova, governor of Russia's autonomous Khanty-Mansiysk district, as saying.
Assad, who denies using chemical weapons, praised Russia's weaponry, telling the lawmakers that the strikes had demonstrated that Russian weapons were superior to U.S. ones. Russia claims that 71 of 103 missiles fired were shot down, although the Pentagon says that is not true.
"We saw the American aggression, and we were able to counter it with Soviet missiles manufactured in the 1970s," Russian lawmaker Dmitry Sablin quoted Assad as saying, according to Russian news agencies.
"The American movies have shown since the 1990s that Russian-made weapons are 'backward.' However, today we can see who is really lagging behind," Assad said, according to Sablin.
Putin has spoken by phone with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, and they agreed the Western airstrikes were an "illegal action ... adversely impacting prospects for political settlement in Syria," a Kremlin statement said.
The official Islamic Republic News Agency quoted Rouhani as saying the U.S. and "some Western countries do not want Syria to reach permanent stability."
Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Lebanon's Hezbollah group, said the airstrikes failed to "terrorize or break the spirits" of Syria and its allies. Hezbollah has hundreds of fighters backing Assad's forces.
"If the goal was to pressure Syria to expedite a political solution, I think what happened will complicate the political solution and will strain international relations and the Geneva track, if not torpedo Geneva altogether," Nasrallah told an election rally in Lebanon.
France and the U.S. say the Geneva process is the only track to pursue a political resolution. Russia has pursued a separate track for political negotiations, hosting talks in Sochi.
Nasrallah also said there is no chemical program in Syria, and he likened the attacks in Syria to the West's concern over Iran's nuclear program.
Trump on Sunday defended his use of the phrase "Mission Accomplished" to describe the missile attack.
His choice of words recalled a similar claim associated with President George W. Bush following the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Bush addressed sailors aboard a Navy ship in May 2003 in front of a "Mission Accomplished" banner, just weeks before it became apparent that Iraqis had organized an insurgency that would tie down U.S. forces for years.
Trump tweeted Sunday that the strike was "perfectly carried out" and that "the only way the Fake News Media could demean was by my use of the term 'Mission Accomplished.'"
He added that he knew the media would "seize" on the phrase, but "it is such a great Military term, it should be brought back," he wrote. "Use often!"
Later Sunday, Trump sent a letter to congressional leaders informing them in writing of his decision to order the strike. Under the War Powers Resolution, the president must keep Congress informed of such actions.
U.S. Sen. Angus King, an independent from Maine who typically votes with Democrats, questioned Trump's optimism about the strike, noting that the U.S. also struck Syria with missiles last year after an apparent chemical attack.
"Saying that it has been a success, we won't know until we see whether the regime continues to use chemical weapons," King said on CNN's State of the Union on Sunday.
U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said on ABC's This Week that while the airstrikes on Syria were proportional and justifiable, they don't "solve the problem that we do not have an overall comprehensive strategy for dealing with Syria."
Chief Pentagon spokesman Dana White has said the strikes "successfully hit every target." What happens next, she said, is up to Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies.
The military said there were three targets: the Barzah chemical weapons research and development site in the Damascus area; a chemical weapons storage facility near Homs; and a chemical weapons "bunker" a few miles from the second target.
U.S. Marine Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie, director of the Joint Staff at the Pentagon, said the allied airstrikes "took out the heart" of Assad's chemical weapons arsenal. When pressed, however, he acknowledged that some unspecified portion of Assad's arms infrastructure -- the facilities involved in the development and production of chemical weapons -- was not targeted.
RETALIATION, NOT WAR
France, meanwhile, has reached out to Russia, urging it to join renewed peace efforts.
In an interview published Sunday in the Journal du Dimanche newspaper, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Moscow "should join our efforts to promote a political process in Syria that would allow a way out of the crisis."
In a televised interview Sunday night, French President Emmanuel Macron said the U.S., France and Britain had "full international legitimacy to intervene" because they had gotten evidence the Syrian government used chemical weapons against its own people and the airstrikes were enforcing international humanitarian law.
"It was retaliation, not an act of war," Macron said on French TV channel BFM and online investigative site Mediapart. He said the allies acted without a U.N. mandate because of the "constant stalemate of the Russians" in the Security Council.
France has continued to talk regularly with Moscow even as East-West tensions have grown. Macron spoke with Putin on Friday, before the airstrikes, and declared France the most active country on the diplomatic field and at the United Nations. He said France could play the role of intermediary between the U.S. and Syrian allies including Russia, Iran and Turkey.
He also took credit for getting the U.S. to lead the attack on Syria, noting that Trump had previously said he wanted the U.S. to withdraw its troops from Syria "very soon."
"Ten days ago, President Trump wanted to withdraw from Syria," Macron said. "We convinced him to remain."
Information for this article was contributed by Carol Morello and Liz Sly of The Washington Post; by Bassem Mroue, Sarah El Deeb, Hope Yen, Robert Burns, Edith M. Lederer, Angela Charlton, Jim Heintz and staff members of The Associated Press; and by Mark Niquette, Saleha Mohsin, Ben Brody and Ari Natter of Bloomberg News.
A Section on 04/16/2018
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