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Trump says missiles ‘will be coming’ to Syria, taunts Russia for vowing to block them

By: ROBERT BURNS, JOSH LEDERMAN and CATHERINE LUCEY , Associated Press
April 11, 2018 Updated: April 11, 2018 at 4:14 pm
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President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani in the Oval Office of the White House, Tuesday, April 10, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

President Trump warned Wednesday that missiles “will be coming” toward Syria in response to a suspected chemical attack, and he taunted Russia for vowing to shoot down any incoming strikes.

“Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and ‘smart!’” the president wrote on Twitter, referring to missile strikes that have appeared likely since the weekend deaths of more than 40 Syrian civilians, including children.

Trump’s taunt was the first explicit U.S. statement that a military response is in the offing, and it marked a turnabout for a president who ridiculed his predecessor, Barack Obama, for allegedly telegraphing military strategy.

Trump also condemned Russia’s backing of the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

“You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!” Trump wrote, in one of his most direct criticisms of Moscow.

Earlier this week, Trump said his administration was working on a response to the suspected chemical attack on Saturday, including military options.

The United States has been building a circumstantial case, based largely on videos and photographs, that a chemical attack by Syrian forces took place in the rebel-held town of Douma in the Eastern Ghouta region near Damascus.

Syria and Russia, a main backer of Assad, have insisted that no chemical attack occurred and that only the opposition groups they call “terrorists” possess chemical weapons.

Reacting to Trump’s tweet, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said that a missile strike could undermine the work of international inspectors who will examine the site of the suspected chemical attack.

“Smart missiles should be fired at terrorists and not at the legitimate government which has been fighting terrorists,” Zakharova wrote on Facebook. “Or is the trick to destroy all the traces with a smart missile strike and then there will be no evidence for international inspectors to look for?”

Trump appeared to be referring to a comment from Russia’s ambassador to Lebanon, who was quoted by a Lebanese news outlet Tuesday as saying that Russia would confront a U.S. strike on Syria by shooting down missiles and striking their launchpads or points of origin.

The missiles most likely to be used in a U.S. attack would probably be launched from U.S. warships, opening the possibility that the Russian diplomat was threatening open warfare.

Two Navy destroyers were used to launch more than 50 Tomahawk cruise missiles at a Syrian air base in April 2017 in response to a nerve-agent attack that Trump blamed on Assad. The destroyers were underway in the Mediterranean Sea when the missiles were launched from hundreds of miles away. That position was beyond the range of Syrian air defenses, but within range of potential Russian defenses.

The 2017 U.S. assault is probably the best guide for what Trump may do now, but he could choose other launch options . The strike a year ago made good on Trump’s vow not to let the use of chemical weapons go unpunished, but it failed to deter Assad from using them again.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, asked about the ambassador’s comment in his regular phone briefing with reporters on Wednesday, did not repeat the warning.

He described the situation in Syria as “rather tense” but declined to specify how Moscow would respond to a U.S. airstrike against its ally Assad. Gen. Valery Gerasimov, chief of the General Staff of the Russian armed forces, has said the military would hit back if U.S. airstrikes endangered Russian servicemen in Syria.

“Regarding the question of what will happen in the event of this or that strike, one still wants to hope that all sides will avoid steps that (a) are not provoked by anything in reality and (b) could significantly destabilize the already fragile situation in the region,” Peskov said Wednesday.

In a later tweet Wednesday morning, Trump asserted that “our relationship with Russia is worse now than it has ever been, and that includes the Cold War.”

“There is no reason for this,” Trump wrote. “Russia needs us to help with their economy, something that would be very easy to do, and we need all nations to work together. Stop the arms race?”

He later wrote that “much of the bad blood” with Russia was the result of an ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. He called the investigation “Fake & Corrupt.”

Trump asserted that the investigation is “headed up by all Democrat loyalists.” He cited special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, whom he called the “most conflicted of all,” and Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, who is overseeing the probe.

Both Mueller and Rosenstein are Republicans.

With his series of tweets, Trump did precisely what he vowed he would never to do: telegraph his moves.

During his 2016 campaign, Trump regularly attacked Obama for previewing U.S. military strategy, which he argued gave the enemy an advantage by allowing it to fortify itself for the coming attack.

“I have often said that General MacArthur and General Patton would be in a state of shock if they were alive today to see the way President Obama and Hillary Clinton try to recklessly announce their every move before it happens — like they did in Iraq — so that the enemy can prepare and adapt,” Trump said in an August 2016 speech on terrorism.

As president, Trump has boasted that he does not disclose his plans ahead of time. In April 2017, as he contemplated a strike in Syria, Trump said, “One of the things I think you’ve noticed about me is: Militarily, I don’t like to say where I’m going and what I’m doing.”

In Geneva, the World Health Organization said Wednesday that it was “deeply alarmed” by the reports that chemical weapons were used in Syria. At least 43 people were killed Saturday night from suspected exposure, while some 500 patients poured into medical facilities that had been also been bombed, the organization said.

“We should all be outraged at these horrific reports and images from Douma,” said Peter Salama, the WHO deputy director general of emergency preparedness and response.

On Tuesday, a network of local flight monitors in Syria said they had tracked several helicopters heading southwest from a government air base Saturday. The same models of aircraft were later detected circling over Douma at 7:26 p.m. to 7:38 p.m. Reports of a suspected gas attack began circulating minutes later.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, a global watchdog, said Tuesday that its inspectors were preparing to deploy to Syria and that Assad’s government has been approached for permission to enter Douma.

But the scope of its mandate remained unclear. The organization is not responsible for naming the perpetrators of any chemical attack, and previous inspectors have said their missions were hampered by government restrictions.

Read this story at The Washington Post.

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