With Ceasefire in Tatters, Haley Warns Assad He Could Face Another US Military Strike

By Patrick Goodenough | March 12, 2018 | 8:22 PM EDT

The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Halsey launches a Tomahawk cruise missile during a test. Four Arleigh Burke-class destroyers (not including the Halsey) are currently forward deployed in Spain, and routinely patrol the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. Two of them were involved in last April’s missile strike on a Syria airbase. (Photo: U.S. Navy, File)

(CNSNews.com) – U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley warned Monday that the U.S. could take military action against the Assad regime to stop violent attacks on civilians that have only escalated since the Security Council a fortnight ago voted for a 30-day ceasefire.

Addressing the council in New York, Haley recalled the U.S. response to a sarin gas attack in Khan Sheikhun in Idlib province last April which killed at least 70 people. President Trump ordered a Tomahawk cruise missile strike on a Syrian airbase which U.S. intelligence agencies linked to the episode.

She noted that before that strike, the U.S. had warned the Security Council.

“We said that when the international community consistently fails to act, there are times when states are compelled to take their own action.”

When the Security Council did then fail to act, she said, the U.S. had done so.

“We repeat this warning today,” Haley said.

While the U.S. supports a U.N. process seeking an end to the conflict, “we also warn any nation that is determined to impose its will through chemical attacks and inhuman suffering, most especially the outlaw Syrian regime: The United States remains prepared to act if we must. It is not the path we prefer, but it is a path we have demonstrated we will take, and we are prepared to take it again.”

While the warning was directed at Assad, Haley also had harsh words for Russia, accusing it of violating the ceasefire it voted for 16 days ago, by conducting at least 20 bombing missions in the first four days of the promised truce, focused on the remaining rebel stronghold of eastern Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus.

More than 500 civilians have been killed since that ceasefire was agreed upon, and there had been three separate allegations of chlorine gas attacks, she said.

“This is no ceasefire. This is the Assad regime, Iran, and Russia continuing to wage war against their political opponents.”

At the weekend, Defense Secretary James Mattis told reporters flying with him to Oman that there have been “an awful lot of reports about chlorine gas use” in Syria and that it would be “very unwise” for Assad or his allies to use weaponized gas.

“The president has full political maneuver room to take the decision that he believes appropriate,” he said, adding that other Western nations were also watching the situation very closely “and are completely aligned with us.”

(French President Emmanuel Macron said during a visit to India Monday that his country was ready to launch “targeted strikes” in response to proven chemical weapons use in Syria.)

‘No room for evasion’

At the Security Council session, Haley presented a new draft resolution aimed at shutting a loophole which she accused the Syrian regime and its Iranian and Russian allies of exploiting as they press home a three-week air and ground assault in eastern Ghouta.

That loophole, inserted at Russia’s insistence into the previous resolution, exempted “terrorist” groups from the ceasefire. But Assad throughout the conflict has refused to distinguish between anti-government rebels and the Sunni jihadists of ISIS and al-Qaeda, lumping them all in the “terrorist” category.

“There are terrorists in Syria,” Haley said. “But the Russian and Syrian regimes label anyone as terrorists who resist their absolute control. In the eyes of Russia, Iran, and Assad, the neighborhoods of eastern Ghouta are full of ‘terrorists.’ The hospitals are full of ‘terrorists.’ The schools are full of ‘terrorists.’”

Haley said Syrian and Russian bombs were continuing to fall on “hospitals and schools, and on innocent civilians,” as they cynically exploit the loophole.

“We have drafted a new ceasefire resolution that provides no room for evasion. It is simple, straightforward, and binding,” she said. “It will take effect immediately upon adoption by this council. It contains no counterterrorism loopholes for Assad, Iran and the Russians to hide behind.”

Since the civil war began in 2011 Russia has vetoed 11 resolutions to protect its ally in Damascus, six times with the support of fellow permanent member China. The likelihood of it not doing so again in this case appears slim.

Speaking later in the meeting Russian Ambassador Vasily Nebenzya gave no leeway, dismissing as “tall tales” assertions that there are few terrorists in eastern Ghouta, and describing the suburbs of Damascus as “a hotbed of terrorism.”

Nebenzya alleged that the al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra group was responsible for a chlorine gas attack in eastern Ghouta on March 5, characterizing it as a provocation designed to draw in an outside military response.

“All of this is being done in order to prepare the ground for the unilateral use of force against sovereign Syria, and we have heard hints of that in the statements of some delegations today.”

The Assad regime, supported by Russia, has consistently denied using chemical weapons, including in Khan Sheikhun last spring, where they charged that the toxic gas was released after a rebel chemical weapons facility was bombed.

That was disputed by a U.N.-appointed independent inquiry’s subsequent conclusion that “all evidence available leads the commission to conclude that there are reasonable grounds to believe Syrian forces dropped an aerial bomb dispersing sarin in Khan Sheikhun.”

 


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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow