Columns

Trump: Gas Attack 'Very Much' Changed 'My Attitude Toward Syria and Assad'

WASHINGTON — President Trump declared he and Jordan’s King Abdullah II “will protect civilization” during the monarch’s visit to the White House today, at which Trump told reporters that his “attitude” on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had changed after Tuesday’s chemical weapons attack.

In a Rose Garden press conference, Trump said that in “great warrior” King Abdullah “America is blessed with a thoughtful and determined partner.”

“He is a man who has spent years commanding his country’s special forces. He really knows what being a soldier is. That I can tell you. And he knows how to fight,” he added. “The king has been a leader in calling for a plan to defeat ISIS once and for all, and I’m with you on that. We’re both leaders on that, believe me. That’s what we speak about today and that is what we are going to do. And it will be a shorter fight than a lot of people are thinking about, believe me.”

The president said he and the king also “discussed measures to combat the evil and ideology that inspires ISIS and plagues our planet.”

“In addition, we also acknowledged the vital role that Jordan has played in hosting refugees from the conflict in Syria. We have just announced that the United States will contribute additional funds to Jordan for humanitarian assistance,” he said, adding they discussed the Mideast peace process because “I’m working very, very hard on trying to finally create peace between the Palestinians and Israel and I think we’ll be successful.”

Abdullah called the U.S.-Jordan partnership “very close to our hearts” and emphasized that “terrorism has no borders, no nationality, no religion, and therefore joint action with a holistic approach, as I just mentioned Mr. President, is crucial.”

“No doubt with all the challenges that we face in the world, the role of the U.S. is key to all the issues that we have around the world. But it’s not just the fact that we should expect the United States to do all the heavy lifting,” the king added. “The heavy lifting has to be done by all of us in the international community to support the United States in being able to translate that vision into the right direction, so there’s a lot of responsibility for all of us in the international community to support the president, the administration and the American people to bring brighter days to all of us.”

Trump, who issued a statement after news of the chemical weapons attack broke Tuesday, included Syria in his opening remarks, calling the attack “so horrific in Syria against innocent people, including women, small children, and even beautiful little babies.”

“Their deaths was [sic] an affront to humanity. These heinous actions by the Assad regime cannot be tolerated. The United States stands with our allies across the globe to condemn this horrific attack and all other horrific attacks, for that matter,” Trump said.

When later taking questions from reporters, Trump said that though the administration focused Tuesday on blaming the Obama administration for not enforcing the chemical weapons red line in 2013 after the Ghouta attack, “I now have responsibility.”

“And I will have that responsibility and carry it very proudly, I will tell you that. It is now my responsibility. It was a great opportunity missed,” he said. “As you know, I’ll be meeting with the president of China very soon in Florida. And that’s another responsibility we have, and that’s called the country of North Korea. We have a big problem. We have somebody that is not doing the right thing. And that’s going to be my responsibility.”

Trump said the Tuesday attack “crossed a lot of lines for me.”

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said today the death toll in what activists are calling Black Tuesday rose to “at least” 72, including 20 children and 17 women. The UK-based monitoring group warned “the death toll may rise because there are tens of injured persons in addition to… missing people” after the airstrikes.

About 300 were injured, according to the health directorate in Idlib. One hospital treating the wounded and a Syrian Civil Defense emergency services center were subsequently rocked by airstrikes a few hours later. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is already working to verify what kind of agent may have been dropped from the warplanes. Doctors Without Borders said they detected two types of agents, from symptoms “consistent with exposure to a neurotoxic agent such as sarin gas or similar compounds” and from smells suggesting they had also been exposed to chlorine gas.

Abdullah said the attack was “another testament to the failure of the international diplomacy to find the solutions to this crisis.”

“This is happening on our watch, on our conscience, as well as the global community… this threshold of inhumanity and savagery that are being crossed every day is something that I know the president will not allow to happen wherever it may be,” the king added.

Last week, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was noncommittal on the future of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, as UN Ambassador Nikki Haley detailed the dictator’s crimes but said removing him was no longer a U.S. priority.

Trump said today that his “flexibility” has “already happened” in that “my attitude toward Syria and Assad has changed very much.”

“And if you look back over the last few weeks, there were other attacks using gas. You’re now talking about a whole different level,” he said. “So, as you know, I would love to have never been in the Middle East. I would love to have never seen that whole big situation start. But once it started, we got out the wrong way and ISIS formed in the vacuum and lots of bad things happened. I will tell you what happened yesterday is unacceptable to me.”

Before the leaders left the Rose Garden, Trump was asked what message he had for Iranian forces supporting ally Assad in Syria.

“You will see. They will have a message,” he replied. “You will see what the message will be. OK?”