Bolton: US will hit Assad if he uses chemical arms
US officials say they have information Assad may be planning a chemical attack in the northwestern province of Idlib. At a Thursday meeting in Geneva, National Security Adviser John Bolton told his Russian counterpart, Nikolai Patrushev, that America is prepared to respond with greater military force than it has used against Assad’s regime in the past, according to the people, who asked not to be identified because the content of talks hasn’t been publicly disclosed.
US President Donald Trump has said before that he’ll punish Assad for any further use of chemical weapons, after ordering two limited strikes in similar circumstances since taking office early last year. But the latest warning is more specific, and it comes on the eve of what may be one of the bloodiest campaigns in Syria’s war.
The US-Russian talks in Geneva also addressed topics including the possible removal of American troops from a military base on the Syria-Iraq border, or their cooperation with Russian forces nearby, according to the people familiar with the talks. No agreement was reached on the conditions under which that could happen, they said. The US also rejected a Russian proposal for oil sanctions on Iran to be suspended as part of a broader settlement in Syria, the people said.
The two previous American attacks against Assad regime were largely symbolic and did little damage to Assad’s military capacity. In April 2017, US warships in the Mediterranean Sea fired about 60 cruise missiles at an airbase which had allegedly been used during a chemical attack. A year later, the UK and France joined the US in carrying out multiple airstrikes against Assad sites.
In the latter case, Defense Secretary James Mattis persuaded the president not to authorize a wider attack, two of the people familiar with the talks said. In the event of another chemical incident, Trump will not be dissuaded, they said.