Trump Vows ‘Big Price’ for Syria Attack, Raising Prospect of Missile Strike

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That raised the prospect of a strike along the lines of one that the president ordered almost exactly a year ago after a sarin gas attack in Khan Sheikhoun that killed more than 80 civilians. In that strike, the United States military dropped 59 Tomahawk missiles on the Al Shayrat airfield, where the chemical weapons attack had originated.

Mr. Trump may be considering such a strike even as he has expressed his desire in recent days to pull American troops out of Syria, where they are seeking to eliminate the last vestiges of the Islamic State. White House officials said Mr. Trump would have a meeting and dinner on Monday at the White House with senior military leaders.

Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, said Mr. Trump should make good on what the president appeared to be threatening on Twitter.

If the president “doesn’t follow through and live up to that tweet, he’s going to look weak in the eyes of Russia and Iran,” Mr. Graham said on “This Week.” “This is a defining moment.”

“You need to follow through with that tweet,” he added. “Show a resolve that Obama never did to get this right.”

In his tweets, Mr. Trump also criticized former President Barack Obama for failing to take military action against Mr. Assad’s government when it used chemical weapons in 2013. Mr. Obama had threatened that any use of unconventional weapons would cross a “red line” for the United States.

At the time, though, Mr. Trump had argued fiercely against American intervention in Syria. In more than a dozen messages on Twitter in 2013 and 2014, he argued that the nation’s civil war was “not our problem” and that American troops should “stay out.”

In a statement on Saturday night, the State Department called the situation in Douma an “alleged chemical weapons attack” and said the reports about it were “horrifying and demand an immediate response by the international community.”

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The statement took Moscow to task, saying it had breached international obligations and calling into question its commitment to weapons nonproliferation.

“The Assad regime and its backers must be held accountable and any further attacks prevented immediately,” it said. “Russia, with its unwavering support for the regime, ultimately bears responsibility for these brutal attacks, targeting of countless civilians and the suffocation of Syria’s most vulnerable communities with chemical weapons.”

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But while members of his administration have often been harshly critical of Mr. Putin, Mr. Trump has in general spoken warmly of his Russian counterpart.

American officials said the process was underway to confirm whether the Syrian government had used chemical weapons and, if so, what kind.

Since last April’s strike on the airfield, the Pentagon has updated lists of potential Syrian military and government targets should Mr. Trump order another strike.

A senior Navy officer said on Sunday morning that Navy warships capable of firing cruise missiles were in the Mediterranean on routine, long-scheduled deployments but had not received any orders to prepare to move closer to Syria or to prepare to carry out any strikes.

Before last year’s strike, American commanders at the sprawling Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar — the United States’ air war command for the region — gave their Russian counterparts a warning of no more than 90 minutes before striking the Syrian airfield. The Americans did this under a “deconfliction” agreement with Moscow to try to prevent an unintended confrontation between the two countries.

At a daily operations briefing on Sunday at the air command center, there was no indication of an imminent operation, said one official who was briefed on the meeting. “Things can change pretty quickly, though,” the official cautioned, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

Indeed, only 63 hours passed between last April’s chemical attack and the American cruise missile strike.

Eric Schmitt contributed reporting.


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