ReutersWASHINGTON/ BEIRUT (Reuters) — U.S. President Donald Trump warned Russia on Wednesday of imminent military action in Syria over a suspected poison gas attack, declaring that missiles “will be coming” and lambasting Moscow for standing by Syrian President Bashar Assad.
The White House pushed back against suggestions that Trump had broadcast his plans for military strikes via Twitter, saying he had not laid out a timetable for action, that all options were still on the table and he was assessing how to respond.
Trump’s tweet was reacting to a warning from Russia that any U.S. missiles fired at Syria over the deadly assault Saturday on the rebel enclave of Douma near Damascus would be shot down and the launch sites targeted.
His comments raised the prospect of direct conflict over Syria for the first time between the two world powers backing opposing sides in the seven-year-old civil war, which has aggravated instability across the Middle East.
“Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and ‘smart!,’” Trump wrote on Twitter.
“You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!” Trump tweeted, referring to Moscow’s alliance with Assad.
In response, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said: “Smart missiles should fly towards terrorists, not towards the lawful government.”
Damascus and Moscow have denied any responsibility and say the incident is bogus.
U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, striking a cautious tone after Trump’s threat of missile strikes, said the United States was assessing intelligence about the suspected attack.
Asked if he had seen enough evidence to blame Assad, Mattis said, “We’re still working on this.”
The U.S. military was ready to provide military options, if appropriate, he added. It was unclear if his remarks reflected unease about Trump’s apparent move toward military action.
Two U.S. government sources told Reuters the United States still did not have 100 percent solid evidence of what nerve agent was used in Syria and where it came from. However, there is some evidence it was sprayed from helicopters, they said.
In Moscow, the head of a Russian parliamentary defense committee, Vladimir Shamanov, said Russia was in direct contact with the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff about the situation.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, said pro-government forces were emptying main airports and military air bases. The Syrian military has also been repositioning some air assets to avoid possible missile strikes, U.S. officials told Reuters.Speech