Rex Tillerson and Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster said Donald Trump’s decision to carry out a military strike in Syria shows he “is willing to act when governments and actors cross the line.”
The secretary of state and national security adviser briefed reporters at Mar-a-Lago Thursday night, shortly after the U.S. carried out a missile strike on a Syrian air base in retaliation of a deadly chemical attack in the country that left dozens of civilians, including women and infants, dead.
“We have a very high level of confidence that the attacks were carried out under aircraft under the direction of Bashar al-Assad’s regime,” Tillerson said. “We have very high confidence that the attacks involved the use of sarin nerve gas.”
“It’s important to recognize that as Assad has continued to use chemical weapons in these attacks with no response, with no response from the international community, he — in effect — is normalizing the use of chemical weapons, which may then be adopted by others. Therefore, it’s important that some action be taken on behalf of the international community to make clear that these chemical weapons continue to be a violation of international norms.”
“We feel that the strike itself was proportional because it was targeted at the facility that delivered this most recent chemical weapons attack.”
Tillerson said the U.S. “sought no approval from Moscow or any other level within Russian infrastructure.” (RELATED: Trump Comments On U.S. Airstrikes In Syria)
“No contacts were made with Moscow, with President Putin,” Tillerson said. “Clearly Russia has failed in its responsibility. Either Russia has been complicit or either Russia has been simply incompetent in its ability to deliver on its end of that agreement.”
McMaster, who noted the strike was targeted to avoid a storage unit that was stockpiling the nerve agent in order to protect civilians, said this is the first time the U.S. has taken “direct military action” against al-Assad.
“This was not a small strike,” McMaster said. “It was not a small strike.”
“It was important during the president’s deliberations and in deliberations with his leadership that we weighed the risk associated with any military action, but we weighed that against the risk of inaction, which Secretary Tillerson has already really summarized, which is the risk of this continued, egregious, inhumane attacks on innocent civilians with chemical weapons,” McMaster said.
“There were three options we discussed with the president, and the president asked us to focus on two options in particular, to mature those options, and he had a series of questions for us that we endeavored to answer.”
“We were able to answer those questions and come back to him in a decision briefing today with virtually all of the principals of the National Security Council here in Florida and by video teleconference back in Washington.”