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US to hit Russia with new sanctions for aiding Syria’s Assad

  • In this image released by the Department of Defense, a U.S. Air Force B-1 Bomber separates from the boom pod after receiving fuel from an Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker on April 13, 2018, en route to strike chemical weapons targets in Syria. President Donald Trump declared "Mission Accomplished" for a U.S.-led allied missile attack on Syria's chemical weapons program, but the Pentagon said the pummeling of three chemical-related facilities left enough others intact to enable the Assad government to use banned weapons against civilians if it chooses. (Department of Defense via AP)

  • CORRECTS YEAR TO 2018 FROM 2014 - In this image from video provided by the U.S. Navy, a U.S. fast-attack submarine launches a tomahawk missile on April 14, 2018, from the Mediterranean Sea as part of a U.S.-led military operation in retaliation for Syria using chemical weapons on April 7. President Donald Trump declared "Mission Accomplished" for a U.S.-led allied missile attack on Syria's chemical weapons program, but the Pentagon said the pummeling of three chemical-related facilities left enough others intact to enable the Assad government to use banned weapons against civilians if it chooses. (U.S. Navy via AP)

  • In this image provided by the U.S. Navy, the guided-missile cruiser USS Monterey (CG 61) fires a Tomahawk land attack missile early Saturday, as part of the military response to Syria's use of chemical weapons on April 7. Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Trey Fowler

  • Firefighrers extinguish smoke that rises from the damage of the Syrian Scientific Research Center which was attacked by U.S., British and French military strikes to punish President Bashar Assad for suspected chemical attack against civilians, in Barzeh, near Damascus, Syria, Saturday, April 14, 2018. The Pentagon says none of the missiles filed by the U.S. and its allies was deflected by Syrian air defenses, rebutting claims by the Russian and Syrian governments. Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the director of the Joint Staff at the Pentagon, also says there also is no indication that Russian air defense systems were employed early Saturday in Syria. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar) Hassan Ammar

  • British Ambassador to the United Nations Karen Pierce, left and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley share a note during a Security Council meeting on the situation in Syria, Saturday, at United Nations headquarters. AP Photo

  • Marine Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., director, Joint Staff, speaks as he shows photographs from before and after the U.S.-led airstrikes against Syria during a media availability at the Pentagon, Saturday, April 14, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) Alex Brandon

  • A Syrian soldier films the damage of the Syrian Scientific Research Center which was attacked by U.S., British and French military strikes to punish President Bashar Assad for suspected chemical attack against civilians, in Barzeh, near Damascus, Syria, Saturday, April 14, 2018. The Pentagon says none of the missiles filed by the U.S. and its allies was deflected by Syrian air defenses, rebutting claims by the Russian and Syrian governments. Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the director of the Joint Staff at the Pentagon, also says there also is no indication that Russian air defense systems were employed early Saturday in Syria. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar) Hassan Ammar

  • Russian Ambassador to the United Nations Vassily Nebenzia speaks during a Security Council meeting on the situation in Syria, Saturday, April 14, 2018 at United Nations headquarters. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer) Mary Altaffer

  • This image provided by the Department of Defense was presented as part of a briefing slide at the Pentagon briefing on Saturday, April 14, 2018, and shows a photo of a preliminary damage assessment from the Him Shinshar Chemical Weapons Bunker in Syria that was struck by missiles from the U.S.-led coalition in response to Syria's use of chemical weapons on April 7. (Department of Defense via AP)

  • Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May gestures during a press conference in 10 Downing Street, London, Saturday, April 14, 2018. British Prime Minister Theresa May says the need to act quickly and protect “operational security” led her to strike Syria without a prior vote in Parliament. (Simon Dawson/Pool Photo via AP) Simon Dawson



Associated Press
Sunday, April 15, 2018

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Sunday defended his use of the phrase “Mission Accomplished” to describe a U.S.-led missile attack on Syria’s chemical weapons program, even as his aides stressed continuing U.S. troop involvement and plans for new economic sanctions against Russia for enabling the government of Bashar Assad.

Stepping up the pressure on Syria’s president, U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley indicated the sanctions to be announced Monday would be aimed at sending a message to Russia, which she said has blocked six attempts by the U.N. Security Council to make it easier to investigate the use of chemical weapons.

“Everyone is going to feel it at this point,” Haley said, warning of consequences for Assad’s foreign allies.

“The international community will not allow chemical weapons to come back into our everyday life,” she said. “The fact he was making this more normal and that Russia was covering this up, all that has got to stop.”

Trump tweeted Sunday that the strike was “perfectly carried out” and that “the only way the Fake News Media could demean was by my use of the term “Mission Accomplished.”” He added that he knew the media would “seize” on the phrase, but said it should be used often. “It is such a great Military term, it should be brought back,” he wrote.

Trump tweeted “Mission Accomplished” on Saturday after U.S., French and British warplanes and ships launched more than 100 missiles nearly unopposed by Syrian air defenses. While he declared success, the Pentagon said the pummeling of three chemical-related facilities left enough others intact to enable the Assad government to use banned weapons against civilians if it chooses.

His choice of words recalled a similar claim associated with President George W. Bush following the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Bush addressed sailors aboard a Navy ship in May 2003 alongside a “Mission Accomplished” banner, just weeks before it became apparent that Iraqis had organized an insurgency that would tie down U.S. forces for years.

Later Sunday, Trump sent a letter to congressional leaders informing them in writing of his decision to order the strike. Under the War Powers Resolution, the president must keep Congress informed of such actions.

Haley made clear the United States won’t be pulling troops out of Syria right away, saying U.S. involvement there “is not done.”

Haley said the three U.S. goals for accomplishing its mission are making sure chemical weapons are not used in a way that could harm U.S. national interests, defeating the Islamic State group and having a good vantage point to watch what Iran is doing.

“We’re not going to leave until we know we’ve accomplished those things,” she said.

Haley said the joint military strike “put a heavy blow into their chemical weapons program, setting them back years” and reiterated that if Assad uses poison gas again, “the United States is locked and loaded.”

French President Emmanuel Macron said Sunday that France wants to launch a diplomatic initiative over Syria that would include Western powers, Russia and Turkey. Speaking on French television BFM and online site Mediapart, Macron stressed that the French diplomacy is able to talk with Iran, Russia and Turkey on one side and to the United States on the other side.

He said, “Ten days ago, President Trump wanted to withdraw from Syria. We convinced him to remain.”

Asked about Macron’s comments, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders stressed that Trump’s plans for the region have not changed. In a statement, she said: “The U.S. mission has not changed – the President has been clear that he wants U.S. forces to come home as quickly as possible.”

The nighttime assault on Syria was carefully limited to minimize civilian casualties and avoid direct conflict with Russia, but confusion arose over the extent to which Washington warned Moscow in advance. The Pentagon said it gave no explicit warning. The U.S. ambassador in Moscow, John Huntsman, said in a video, “Before we took action, the United States communicated with” Russia to “reduce the danger of any Russian or civilian casualties.”

Russia has military forces, including air defenses, in several areas of Syria to support Assad in his long war against anti-government rebels.

Russia and Iran called the use of force by the United States and its French and British allies a “military crime” and “act of aggression.” The U.N. Security Council rejected a Russian resolution calling for condemnation of the “aggression” by the three Western allies.

Assad denies he has used chemical weapons, and the Trump administration has yet to present hard evidence of what it says precipitated the allied missiles attack: a chlorine gas attack on civilians in Douma on April 7. The U.S. says it suspects that sarin gas also was used.

“Good souls will not be humiliated,” Assad tweeted while hundreds of Syrians gathered in Damascus, the capital, where they flashed victory signs and waved flags in scenes of defiance after the early morning barrage.

The strikes “successfully hit every target,” said Dana W. White, the chief Pentagon spokeswoman. The military said there were three targets: the Barzah chemical weapons research and development site in the Damascus area, a chemical weapons storage facility near Homs and a chemical weapons “bunker” a few miles from the second target.

Although officials said the singular target was Assad’s chemical weapons capability, his air force, including helicopters he allegedly has used to drop chemical weapons on civilians, were spared. In a U.S. military action a year ago in response to a sarin gas attack, missiles took out nearly 20 percent of the Syrian air force, the Pentagon said.

The U.S.-led operation won broad Western support. The NATO alliance gave its full backing; NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the attack was about ensuring that chemical weapons cannot be used with impunity.

In his televised address from the White House on Friday, Trump said the U.S. was prepared to keep up the economic, diplomatic and military pressure on Assad until he ends a pattern of killing his own people with internationally banned chemical weapons.

That did not mean military strikes would continue. In fact, Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said no additional attacks were planned.

Asked about Trump’s “Mission Accomplished” assertion, White said it pointed to the successful targeting of the three Syrian chemical weapons sites. What happens next, she said, is up to Assad and to his Russian and Iranian allies.

Haley appeared on “Fox News Sunday” and CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

Associated Press writer Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.


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