President Donald Trump on Wednesday said the recent chemical weapons attack in Syria crossed “beyond a red line” and changed his mind toward Bashar al-Assad, the ruthless leader of the country whom Trump had previously suggested could stay in power.
When asked during a press conference with King Abdullah II of Jordan whether the chemical attack this week crossed a “red line,” Trump said it “crossed a lot of lines” for him. The Tuesday attack on a rebel-held town in northwest Syria killed at least 70 people.
“When you kill innocent children, innocent babies, babies, little babies, with a chemical gas that is so lethal, people were shocked to hear what gas it was,” Trump said. “That crosses many, many lines. Beyond a red line.”
Trump later said that he is a “flexible person” and is capable of changing his opinions on issues.
“That attack on children yesterday had a big impact on me. Big impact,” Trump said. “That was a horrible, horrible thing. And I’ve been watching it and seeing it and it doesn’t get any worse than that.”
He continued: “It’s very, very possible, and I will tell you it’s already happened, that my attitude toward Syria and Assad has changed very much.”
Trump cited other attacks in Syria in recent weeks, saying they reached a “whole different level.” He also called this week’s attack “unacceptable.”
But Trump remained vague when asked whether his calculus on taking military action in Syria has changed. Trump had previously urged against using military action in Syria.
“One of the things I think you’ve noticed about me is, militarily, I don’t like to say where I’m going and what I’m doing,” Trump said. “… I’m not saying I’m doing anything one way or the other. But I’m certainly not gonna be telling you.”
Trump also criticised former President Barack Obama for failing to take action in Syria after drawing a “red line” in 2012. Obama threatened military action if the Assad regime used chemical weapons, but then backtracked once evidence surfaced of such an attack.
“I think the Obama administration had a great opportunity to solve this crisis a long time ago when he said the red line in the sand,” Trump said. “And when he didn’t cross that line after making the threat, I think that set us back a long ways, not only in Syria but in many other parts of the world because it was a blank threat.”
Trump said the he now had responsibility for helping solve the Syrian crisis, which is dragging on into its sixth year as rebels fight to oust Assad.
Despite Trump saying that this week’s attack was on a “whole different level,” the Assad regime has been known to use chemical weapons throughout the war.
The New York Times noted that while this week’s attack “was among the deadliest uses of chemical weapons in Syria in years, it was far from an isolated case.” Watchdog organisations estimate that more than a thousand Syrians have been killed in chemical weapons attacks since the start of the war.
Trump’s statements on Assad have been all across the board in recent years.
In 2013, he tweeted, “AGAIN, TO OUR VERY FOOLISH LEADER, DO NOT ATTACK SYRIA – IF YOU DO MANY VERY BAD THINGS WILL HAPPEN & FROM THAT FIGHT THE U.S. GETS NOTHING!”
And US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said last week forcing Assad from power was no longer a priority for the US.
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