03 February, 2018
But with Russian and Iranian influence growing in Syria and posing a direct threat to United States foreign policy interests, it's possible that the Trump administration may look to make a statement that it's not buying Russia's excuses anymore.
If left unchecked, the USA officials added, Assad could use small chemical attacks in the hopes to redress the power imbalance in rebel-held areas as an "instrument of terror". "They're trying to fool you".
The Syrian government was accused a year ago of using sarin gas against its own citizens - an attack that drew a US retaliatory response of 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles into the air field the chemical assault was launched from.
More recent attacks have involved both chlorine, which has non-warfare uses and is easier to acquire, and the more sophisticated chemical sarin, the officials said. They offered no details of specific attacks, referring only to media reports.
Administration officials said Trump has not ruled out additional military action to deter chemical attacks or to punish Assad, though they did not suggest any action was imminent.
US officials on Thursday said the Syrian military was shifting tactics to try to hide its role in using such weapons.
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Heather Nauert, the US State Department spokesperson, said on Thursday that the US was "extremely concerned" about reports of the Assad regime carrying out another chlorine gas attack.
American officials have told multiple USA media outlets that Assad's regime has kept chemical weapons, officially banned by United Nations regulations, hidden inside the war-torn country despite an agreement to abolish those in 2013.
"They think they can get away with it if they keep it under a certain level".
Syria would be "ill-advised to go back to violating the chemical convention", Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis said, the Washington Examiner notes. Eastern Ghouta is the last major rebel position close to the capital and was the site of the deadliest chemical attack by regime forces, in 2013. The officials wouldn't answer that directly. He blamed Russian Federation as a guarantor of the 2013 disarmament agreement for failing to enforce it. Assad did not have to relinquish chlorine as part of the agreement, though its use as a weapon violates the Chemical Weapons Convention.
"Our hope is they will understand they need to put a stop to this use...and they can do it quietly", one of the officials said.
Barrel bombs used earlier in the war to disperse chemicals indiscriminately, for example, have been replaced by ground-launched munitions, officials said. "We reserve the right to use military force to prevent or deter the use of weapons of mass destruction".
Kimberly Dozier is executive editor of The Cipher Brief.