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U.S. Sees Signs Syria Preparing For Attack -- WSJ

27 Jun 2017 6:32 am
By Felicia Schwartz 

This article is being republished as part of our daily reproduction of WSJ.com articles that also appeared in the US print edition of The Wall Street Journal (June 27, 2017).

WASHINGTON -- The Trump administration on Monday said that it had detected what may be preparations by the Syrian government for a chemical-weapons attack and warned that the country's ruler and military would "pay a heavy price" if they carried out a strike.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer said the Syrian government is undertaking activities similar to those it made before conducting a chemical-weapons attack in April in Idlib province that killed more than 80 people.

U.S. forces later fired almost 60 Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian air base that was linked to the attack. Those strikes took place as Mr. Trump was hosting Chinese President Xi Jinping in Florida. The U.S. response was widely welcomed by lawmakers.

"The United States has identified potential preparations for another chemical weapons attack by the Assad regime that would likely result in the mass murder of civilians, including innocent children," Mr. Spicer said in a statement late Monday.

He said the U.S. is engaged in Syria to eliminate Islamic State, but warned that if Syrian President Bashar al-Assad conducts another attack using chemical weapons, "he and his military will pay a heavy price."

Trump administration officials have signaled since the April strike that the U.S. would be willing to take more military action in response to further chemical-weapons use.

Since the attack, the U.S. has had a series of confrontations with pro-regime forces in Syria that have made American forces increasingly at risk of direct confrontation with Mr. Assad and his allies from Russia and Iran.

Last week, an American jet fighter shot down an Iranian-made armed drone after it flew toward U.S.-led coalition troops in southern Syria. The drone's downing was the latest of several episodes in recent weeks in which the U.S. brought down pro-regime aircraft viewed as threats to coalition forces and to those Syrian fighters that the U.S. is backing in the fight against Islamic State.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov spoke on the phone Monday to discuss the Syria conflict, including the need for a cease-fire and steps to deter the use of chemical agents, according to Russia's Foreign Ministry. The U.S. didn't release its own description of the call.

The U.S. and Russia reached a deal in 2013 on an international agreement that aimed to strip the Assad regime of its declared stockpiles of chemical weapons, but the deal has failed to cripple its ability to make or use them. The deal at the time averted a campaign of U.S. airstrikes that the Obama administration was preparing.

But, in 2015, U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that despite the efforts of the international body overseeing the agreement -- the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons -- Mr. Assad hadn't given up his chemical weapons, U.S. officials said.

The U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, said on Twitter on Monday that Russia and Iran would bear responsibility for future attacks by the Syrian government. U.S. officials have accused Russia of covering up the April 4 attack.

"Any further attacks done to the people of Syria will be blamed on Assad, but also on Russia & Iran who support him killing his own people," she said.

Write to Felicia Schwartz at Felicia.Schwartz@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

June 27, 2017 02:32 ET (06:32 GMT)

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