WASHINGTON – Senior U.S. government warned the Russian and the Syrian governments Tuesday against chemical weapons used in Syria, as allied troops with its President Bashar Assad to prepare for an offensive on a rebel stronghold.
The United States “will respond to any verified chemical weapons in Idlib, or elsewhere in Syria … in a quick and timely manner,” State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert told reporters in Washington.
Nauert said senior US officials with their Russian colleagues “to make this point very clearly to Damascus.” She said that the use of chemical weapons “will not be tolerated.”
She said Secretary of state Mike Pompeo said the Russian Minister of Foreign affairs Sergey Lavrov last week that Moscow — a military ally of Assad would be held responsible.
The Syrian government is preparing for an expected offensive in the province of Idlib, which is home to nearly 3 million people and has a large al-Qaeda presence in addition to the Syrian rebel groups.
President Donald Trump has twice carried out air strikes in Syria in response to apparent chemical weapons attacks. Trump said that the strikes were intended to deter Assad of launching chemical weapons attacks.
At the Pentagon, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis indicated that two air raids, but offered no further information Tuesday on how the U.S. was responding to the situation, other than to refer to the State Department’s “recent active communication with Russia and to recall them to prevent this.”
In April, the United States, France and Britain launched military strikes in Syria to punish Assad for an apparent attack by the use of chlorine against civilians in the suburb of Damascus, Douma. And in 2017 Trump competent to deal with the barrage of Tomahawk cruise missiles to hit a single Syrian airport in retaliation for Assad’s use of sarin gas against civilians.
Assad has repeatedly denied his government has used chemical weapons.
Russia has accused Syrian rebels of the preparation of a chemical attack, which Moscow says that the West will use to justify a strike against Syrian government forces.