President Donald Trump on Wednesday said that U.S. missiles “will be coming” to Syria, and warned he was willing to challenge Russia directly in launching a military strike against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad over an alleged chemical-weapons attack.
On Twitter Wednesday morning, Mr. Trump wrote: “Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and ‘smart!’”
He warned Russia it shouldn’t be “partners” with Mr. Assad, whom he termed a “Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!”
The U.S. and France have positioned warships armed with cruise missiles within firing range of Syria, and the U.S. has been working to rally international support for a strike.
The president appeared to be responding to reported comments by the Russian ambassador to Lebanon, Alexander Zasypkin, who told a television channel run by Hezbollah early Wednesday that Russia would shoot down any missiles targeting Syria, “and even the sources from which the missiles were fired.”
A spokeswoman for Russia’s Foreign Ministry said in response to Mr. Trump’s tweet that Washington should direct its rockets at terrorists in Syria, not the lawful government fighting them.
Maria Zakharova also suggested that a U.S. strike could be directed at targets inside Syria to cover up a lack of evidence of the suspected chemical attack “so that international experts have nothing to search for as evidence.”
Russia has broadly supported Damascus’s description of the array of groups fighting Mr. Assad as terrorists.
Canon EOS 5D Mark IV | Manual | Pattern | 1/250sec | F/2.0 | 0.00 EV | 135.0mm | ISO-3200 | Off Compulsory | 2018:03:01 12:23:09
Mr. Trump has vowed to punish Russia and Iran if the U.S. concludes they helped with the weekend strike that killed more than 40 people, including women and children. But there was no indication that the U.S. would target Russian and Iranian forces in Syria.
In a subsequent tweet, Mr. Trump said “there is no reason” for the U.S. and Russia to be at odds and appeared to plead for an end to the “arms race.”
“Our relationship with Russia is worse now than it has ever been, and that includes the Cold War,” he wrote. “There is no reason for this. 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? ” Mr. Trump wrote.
Medical professionals and human-rights groups say that Syrian military helicopters dropped weapons containing poison gas that caused symptoms consistent with exposure to chlorine and a nerve agent. Dozens of people, including families hiding in their basements, died and hundreds were injured.
The Syrian government has denied involvement, but faced with growing international pressure, offered with Russia to allow a fact-finding team into the country to investigate the attack.
The U.S. said it had little confidence in the offer, saying that those countries initially blocked access to the site of the alleged attack and that some of the evidence might have been destroyed.
Canon EOS 5D Mark III | Manual | Pattern | 1/125sec | F/2.8 | 0.00 EV | 130.0mm | ISO-4000 | Off Compulsory | 2018:02:06 14:15:35
Russia on Tuesday vetoed a U.S.-crafted resolution before the United Nations Security Council that called for creation of a new group to investigate chemical attacks in Syria.
Mr. Trump has had direct conversations with President Emmanuel Macron of France and Prime Minister Theresa May of the U.K., and with the visiting emir of Qatar in the White House Tuesday, about a potential strike.
The White House said late Tuesday that the president and the emir, Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani, discussed “Iranian and Russian malign influence, including the role Iran and Russia play to enable the Assad regime’s atrocities” and “the threat Iran and Russia pose to regional stability.”