EghtesadOnline: The U.S. appeared to rule out plans to seek regime change in Syria as international condemnation grew following an apparent gas attack Tuesday morning that a human rights group said killed at least 58 people, including women and children.
The attack “is reprehensible and cannot be ignored by the civilized world,” President Donald Trump said in a statement. “These heinous actions by the Bashar al-Assad regime are a consequence of the past administration’s weakness and irresolution,” he added, suggesting the Obama administration missed an opportunity that is now gone to push harder for the removal of the Syrian president, Bloomberg reported.
“There is not a fundamental option of regime change as there has been in the past,” White House spokesman Sean Spicer told reporters ahead of Trump’s statement, adding that the U.S. believes it would be better for the Syrian people if Assad were gone.
The comments are the latest signal that the U.S. acknowledges Assad’s ability to remain in power despite a six-year civil war that saw much of his country fall into rebel and terrorist hands before Russia intervened on his behalf in 2015. While then-President Barack Obama said “Assad must go” in 2011, the U.S. and an alliance of rebels it backed never mounted a successful campaign to overthrow him.
Republican Senator John McCain, of Arizona, said Tuesday that the Trump administration’s recent statements that Assad’s fate was up to the Syrian people “only serve to legitimize the action of this war criminal.”
“In case it was not already painfully obvious: The notion that the Syrian people would be able to decide the fate of Assad or the future of their country under these conditions is an absurd fiction,” McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said.
Tuesday’s apparent gas attack drew fury from world leaders and prompted the United Nations Security Council to call an emergency session for Wednesday. The U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said its on-the-ground sources reported that one neighborhood “was bombed with material believed to be gases which caused suffocation and other symptoms, like intense breathing secretion, iris shrinkage, pail, general spasm, and other symptoms.”
“I’m appalled by the reports that there’s been a chemical weapons attack on a town south of Idlib allegedly by the Syrian regime,” U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May said while on a trip to Saudi Arabia. “We cannot allow this suffering to continue.”
The Syrian Observatory said warplanes attacked the area but it didn’t identify them. Russia’s Defense Ministry rejected the claim that its planes attacked a northern Syrian town with chemical weapons, the Associated Press reported. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) is investigating the incident, according to a statement on its website.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called on Russia and Iran, Assad’s main backers, to rein in the Syrian leader, saying the two nations “bear great moral responsibility for these deaths.”
“Those who defend and support him, including Russia and Iran, should have no illusions about Assad or his intentions,” Tillerson said in a statement. “We call upon Russia and Iran, yet again, to exercise their influence over the Syrian regime and to guarantee that this sort of horrific attack never happens again.”
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres was “deeply disturbed” at the incident, even though the world body was not in a position “to independently verify reports” of the chemical attack, according to UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric. If confirmed, the attack “constitutes a serious violation of international law.”
Obama’s ‘Red Line’
The attack appeared to be the largest chemical attack in Syria since August 2013, when more than 1,000 people were killed in the Damascus suburbs by the banned toxin sarin. Obama had called Assad’s use of chemical weapons a “red line” that would prompt a military response, but under threat of U.S. action, Assad agreed to a U.S.-Russian deal to eliminate his stockpile of chemical weapons.
In June 2014, the OPCW said it had removed all of Assad’s chemical stockpiles. However, after repeated reports of chlorine bomb attacks, the security council authorized the OPCW to investigate reports of chemical weapons use by Syrian regime.
A joint OPCW-UN panel determined in August 2016 that the Syrian government used chlorine gas on at least two occasions in 2014 and 2015. Last February, Russia and China vetoed a security council resolution to sanction members of Assad regime.