Mattis: US 'still assessing' suspected Syria chemical weapons attack

James Mattis and Donald Trump

James Mattis and Donald Trump

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Thursday said the U.S. is still looking for "actual evidence" of a chemical weapons attack in Syria but United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley said the United States has "enough" proof.

The Kremlin on Thursday warned the US and its allies, who are weighing military strikes on Syria, to avoid any steps that could destabilize the situation there.

"They can only say that they found evidence or did not, and as each day goes by - as you know, it's a non-persistent gas, so it becomes more and more hard to confirm it", Mattis said.

"Never said when an attack on Syria would take place".

"On a strategic level, it's how do we keep this from escalating out of control", he said. Now you can look back to a year ago when we did fire missiles into Syria unrelated to ISIS and that was of course the use of chemical weapons.

"Some things are simply inexcusable, beyond the pale and in the worst interest of not just the chemical weapons conventions but of civilization itself".

Donald Trump said at a Cabinet meeting that "major decisions on Syria" will come in the next 24 to 48 hours after he figures out who was responsible for the alleged attack in Douma - Russia, or Syria, or Iran, or "all of them together".

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Mattis insisted that Trump has not yet made a decision to strike Syria, after the president earlier had tweeted that action "could be very soon or not so soon at all!"

"We're still assessing the intelligence ourselves, and our allies".

Asked if the USA was ready for an attack, Mattis replied that "We stand ready to provide military options if they're appropriate, as the president determined".

"This is a complex area, I'll be the first to admit it", Mattis said. If the regime does allow an investigation, the inspectors will not be able to determine who launched a chemical attack, he said. A joint military operation, possibly with France rather than the U.S.in the lead, could send a message of global unity about enforcing the prohibitions on chemical weapons and counter Syria's political and military support from Russian Federation and Iran.

"We have forces in the field and the use of chemical weapons in Syria is not something that we should assume that 'well, because he didn't use them on us this time, he wouldn't use them on us next time, '" Mattis told Rep. John Garamendi, D-Calif. "We're still working on this", he said.

Warning that he was concerned that a U.S. strike might lead to an "out of control" escalation in the Syrian war, Mattis said that Washington was "committed to ending that war through the Geneva process through the United Nations orchestrated effort". About 2,000 US military personnel are in Syria.

The release says the U.S. Department of Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control has blocked the airline for transporting weapons and ammunition to Syria in conjunction with Hezbollah, a terrorist organization, and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.

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