President Donald Trump harshly criticized Russian President Vladimir Putin’s backing of the Syrian regime Wednesday, but pledged that the U.S. had no intention of invading.
Trump’s comments follow a Thursday U.S. cruise missile strike on a Syrian airbase suspected of dropping chemical weapons on civilians. Trump’s actions prompted questions as to whether the Trump administration would pursue a policy of regime change in Syria. Trump’s critics fear that continued U.S. action against the Assad regime could trigger a confrontation with Russia, the main backer of the Syrian government.
“We’re not going into Syria,” Trump declared to FoxNews. He continued in a similar vein to the New York Post saying “our policy is the same — it hasn’t changed. We’re not going into Syria,” elaborating that “our big mission is getting rid of ISIS.”
Trump explained to Fox, “But when I see people using horrible, horrible chemical weapons… and see these beautiful kids that are dead in their father’s arms, or you see kids gasping for life … when you see that, I immediately called General Mattis.” He continued, “If Russia didn’t go in and back this animal [Assad], you wouldn’t have a problem right now.”
Senior U.S. officials also said Tuesday that the Russian government knew ahead of time that the Assad regime intended on using chemical weapons.
Trump’s comments indicate the impetus for U.S. action will continue to be the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime, while the primary U.S. mission will be the defeat of ISIS. Secretary of Defense James Mattis parroted this position Tuesday saying “our military policy in Syria has not changed. Our priority remains the defeat of ISIS. ISIS represents a clear and present danger, an immediate threat to Europe and ultimately, a threat to the United States homeland.”
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