The US has not ruled out launching airstrikes against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in response to the weekend’s suspected chemical gas attack on civilians, Defense Secretary James Mattis said Monday.
“I don’t rule out anything right now,” Mattis said while hosting Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani, the emir of Qatar, at the Pentagon.
“The first thing we have to look at is why are chemical weapons still being used at all when Russia was the framework guarantor of removing all chemical weapons, and so working with our allies and partners from NATO to Qatar and elsewhere we are going to address this issue,” Mattis continued.
President Donald Trump strongly condemned the “atrocious” chemical weapons attack in Syria during a Cabinet meeting at the White House Monday and said a decision on US action would be made over the next 24-48 hours.
“I’d like to begin by condemning the heinous attack on innocent Syrians with banned chemical weapons,” he said. “It was an atrocious attack, it was horrible, you don’t see things like that as bad as the news is around the world, you just don’t see those images.”
“We are very concerned, when a thing like that can happen, this is about humanity. We’re talking about humanity. And it can’t be allowed to happen,” he added.
Asked if US military action is off the table in response to the chemical weapons attack, Trump told reporters it’s not.
“Nothing’s off the table,” he said, shortly after noting that major decisions would be made in the next day or two.
Trump also expressed frustration at investigators not being able to get immediate answers about who was behind the attack.
“So if it’s Russia, if it’s Syria, if it’s Iran, if it’s all of them together we’ll figure it out and we’ll know the answers quite soon,” the President said.
Asked if Russian President Vladimir Putin bears responsibility for the attack, Trump said he may and, if so, Putin will pay a price.
“He may, yeah, he may, and if he does, it’s gonna be very tough. Very tough,” the President said.
“Everybody’s gonna pay a price, he will and everybody will,” Trump said.
National Security Council principals are holding a “small group” meeting to discuss Syria on Monday, led by John Bolton on his first official day as White House national security adviser, two administration officials told CNN.
A small group meeting is typically held to discuss options for the President, one of the officials said. Trump is not participating in the meeting according to a senior administration official.
Syrian activist groups on Saturday said toxic gas inside barrel bombs dropped from helicopters over a rebel-held city in Syria killed dozens of civilians and wounded scores more. Syrian state news said an “official source” denied the allegations.
Trump on Sunday warned Syria and its two closest allies, Russia and Iran, of a “big price to pay” following the attack, and slammed Assad as an “animal” on Twitter.
“Many dead, including women and children, in mindless CHEMICAL attack in Syria,” Trump tweeted. “Area of atrocity is in lockdown and encircled by Syrian Army, making it completely inaccessible to outside world. President Putin, Russia and Iran are responsible for backing Animal Assad. Big price…”
He continued, “….to pay. Open area immediately for medical help and verification. Another humanitarian disaster for no reason whatsoever. SICK!”
CNN’s Kevin Liptak, Elise Labott, Noah Gray and Eli Watkins contributed to this report.