(CNSNews.com) - Members of the Trump administration publicly pointed out multiple suspected chlorine attacks in Syria in the early part of this year before President Donald Trump said near the end of March that the U.S. military would be withdrawing from that country "very soon."
Even as the State Department and the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations raised growing concerns about the reported, recurring chemical attacks in Syria, President Trump himself said nothing about them.
Then, just two weeks ago, on March 29, Trump went off-script during a speech in Ohio, saying he wanted to bring U.S. troops out of Syria.
"And by the way, we're knocking the hell out of ISIS," Trump said. "We'll be coming out of Syria, like, very soon. Let the other people take care of it now."
Trump continued: "Very soon -- very soon we're coming out. We're going to have 100 percent of the caliphate, as they call it -- sometimes referred to as 'land' -- taking it all back quickly, quickly. But we're going to be coming out of there real soon. Going to get back to our country, where we belong, where we want to be."
It wasn’t until April 8, following news of the most recent reported chemical attack in Douma, Syria, that President Trump weighed in with threats of swift and severe military action against the Assad regime and its ally, Russia. "President Putin, Russia and Iran are responsible for backing Animal Assad. Big price to pay," Trump tweeted on April 8.
In another tweet on April 11, Trump said: "Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and 'smart!' You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!”
Later that day, April 11, Defense Secretary James Mattis told reporters, "We're still assessing the intelligence. Ourselves and our allies, we're still working on this...We stand ready to provide military options if they're appropriate, as the president determined," he said.
Meanwhile, U.S. allies, including British Prime Minister Theresa May, said "if" the Assad regime is responsible, it must be "held to account."
Since early February, the State Department and the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. have expressed growing concern about bomb and chlorine gas attacks in Syria -- which they have blamed on the Assad regime and Russia.
For example, in remarks on April 4 to the U.N. Security Council, U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley said: "The Assad regime keeps dropping chlorine bombs on innocent men, women, and children. Just these past few weeks, when the regime seized eastern Ghouta, there were credible reports of chlorine gas attacks."
"Credible," she said -- but not yet confirmed.
While U.S. suspicion falls on the Assad regime, both the regime and Russia deny responsibility for the most recent chemical attack in Douma.
As CNSNews.com reported, Russia’s military on Wednesday accused the White Helmets rescue organization of staging the attack, and claimed its own personnel had found no evidence of chemical use at the scene.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Monday said the Russian military on the ground in Syria had "issued repeated warnings" that Syrian rebels were preparing a "major provocation," hoping that the Assad regime would be blamed -- and punished.
The World Health Organization, citing reports from its "Health Cluster Partners, said on Wednesday that "an estimated 500 patients presented to (Syrian) health facilities exhibiting signs and symptoms consistent with exposure to toxic chemicals" in Douma.
WHO said "more than 70 people sheltering in basements have reportedly died, with 43 of those deaths related to symptoms consistent with exposure to highly toxic chemicals. Two health facilities were also reportedly affected by these attacks."
WHO said its role is not to find out who used the chemical weapons but rather to address public health concerns.
The following is a chronology of U.S. comments and concerns about gas attacks in Syria dating back to February 1, including President Trump's wish to pull out of the country amid those concerns -- and ending with his provocative tweets:
At the regular State Department briefing, spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters that the United States was "extremely concerned about yet another report of the use of chlorine gas by the Syrian regime to terrorize innocent civilians in east Ghouta, Syria, outside of Damascus."
"If confirmed," she continued, "the attack is the third reported instance in the past 30 days in east Ghouta." Nauert said the U.S. was "working with our partners on the ground to investigate the reports."
Four days later, Nauert issued a written statement saying that the United States "is gravely alarmed by continued allegations of the use of chlorine gas by the Syrian Regime to terrorize innocent civilians, this time in Idlib Province near Saraqib."
"This attack is the sixth such reported instance in the past 30 days in Syria," Nauert said.
In remarks at the United Nations on that same day, Feb. 5, U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley said the news out of Syria was following “a troubling pattern."
"There are reports of yet another chemical weapons attack on Sunday,” Haley said. “Victims of what appears to be chlorine gas are pouring into hospitals. Few things have horrified my country and the world as much as the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons against its people. This Council has been outspoken on ending Syria’s use of chemical weapons, and yet, they continue," Haley said.
Haley pointed to "reports that the Assad regime has used chlorine gas against its people multiple times in recent weeks, including just yesterday. There is obvious evidence from dozens of victims," she said, without elaborating.
The U.N. Security Council passed a resolution calling for a 30-day ceasefire in eastern Ghouta.
Four days after the ceasefire call, Ambassador Kelley Currie once again warned that the situation in Syria was only getting worse:
“Less than 24-hours after we demanded the ceasefire, there were reports that the Assad regime once again used chlorine gas as a weapon,” Haley told the U.N. Security Council. “Such attacks demonstrate Syria’s complete and utter contempt for this Council – and the United Nations.”
Haley also said “Russia, Iran and the Assad regime were not even trying to hide their intentions. They are asking civilians to leave eastern Ghouta on the false premise that they can then attack anyone left in the area as much as they would like.”
Again on March 12, Haley condemned ceasefire violations, saying the bombing continued in eastern Ghouta:
“And in the past 16 days, there have been three separate allegations of chlorine gas attacks. This is no ceasefire,” Haley said. “This is the Assad regime, Iran, and Russia continuing to wage war against their political opponents.”
Ambassador Kelley Currie, the U.S. Representative for Economic and Social Affairs at the U.S. Mission to the U.N., spoke to members of the U.N. Security Council, saying the U.S. would introduce a new ceasefire resolution “that is tougher and more comprehensive than the one passed 16 days ago.”
“Assad would be gravely ill-advised to continue using chemical weapons. Likewise, Russia and Iran are ill-advised to continue to ignore and enable the Assad regime’s use of such weapons,” Currie said.
Also on March 13:
In brief remarks, President Trump condemned the March 4 nerve agent attack on a former Russian military intelligence officer and his daughter in England. Both were critically injured in the assassination attempt.
Trump told reporters that "as soon as we get the facts straight, if we agree with them, we will condemn Russia or whoever it may be." He said it sounded like Russia was behind the attack on the former Russian spy and his daughter.
At this point, Trump had not commented on the suspected chemical attacks in Syria.
Ambassador Haley spoke at the U.N., condemning Russia's use of a "chemical weapon," a military nerve agent, in the attack on two civilians in England.
Haley noted that the chemical attack was not an isolated incident on Russia's part:
“The Russians complained recently that we criticize them too much. If the Russian government stopped using chemical weapons to assassinate its enemies; and if the Russian government stopped helping its Syrian ally to use chemical weapons to kill Syrian children; and if Russia cooperated with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons by turning over all information related to this nerve agent, we would stop talking about them.”
Haley said Russia “must fully cooperate with the UK’s investigation and come clean about its own chemical weapons program.”
President Trump tells an audience in Ohio: "And by the way, we're knocking the hell out of ISIS. We'll be coming out of Syria, like, very soon. Let the other people take care of it now," he said. "Very soon -- very soon we're coming out. We're going to have 100 percent of the caliphate, as they call it -- sometimes referred to as 'land' -- taking it all back quickly, quickly. But we're going to be coming out of there real soon. Going to get back to our country, where we belong, where we want to be."
The United States called for an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council following "allegations of a chemical weapons attack” in Douma, Syria.
(It was this suspected attack that prompted a series of tweets from President Trump; see below)
“Yet again, there are reports of what appears to be a chemical weapons attack in Syria," Ambassador Haley said on April 8. "Unfortunately, chemical-weapons use to injure and kill innocent Syrian civilians has become all too common. The Security Council has to come together and demand immediate access for first responders, support an independent investigation into what happened, and hold accountable those responsible for this atrocious act."
Also on April 8:
Fox News and other media outlets began publishing reports, including photographs, detailing the suspected gas attack in Douma, in eastern Ghouta.
Around the same time, President Trump tweeted about the suspected chemical attack in Douma, which happened almost a year to the day after Trump ordered airstrikes on a Syrian air base in response to the regime's chemical (sarin) attack on Syrian civilians:
“Many dead, including women and children, in mindless CHEMICAL attack in Syria," Trump wrote. "Area of atrocity is in lockdown and encircled by Syrian Army, making it completely inaccessible to outside world. President Putin, Russia and Iran are responsible for backing Animal Assad. Big price to pay. Open area immediately for medical help and verification. Another humanitarian disaster for no reason whatsoever. SICK!”
“If President Obama had crossed his stated Red Line In The Sand, the Syrian disaster would have ended long ago! Animal Assad would have been history!”
Ambassador Haley, in a press release, blasted the U.N. Security Council for doing nothing to stop the slaughter of Syrian civilians, and warned that the use of chemical weapons is “becoming normalized.”
“Here we are, in a world where chemical weapons use is becoming normalized – from an Indonesian airport, to an English village, to the homes and hospitals of Syria. Since the Assad regime used chemical weapons at Khan Sheikhun one year ago, chemical weapons have been reportedly used dozens of times. And this Council does nothing,” Haley said.
“We are on the edge of a dangerous precipice. The great evil of chemical weapons use that once unified the world in opposition, is on the verge of becoming the new normal. The international community must not let this happen.”
Trump again tweeted about "the vicious gas attack in Syria," putting Russia and Syria on notice:
"Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and 'smart!' You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!”
Trump tweets: "Never said when an attack on Syria would take place. Could be very soon or not so soon at all! In any event, the United States, under my Administration, has done a great job of ridding the region of ISIS. Where is our 'Thank you America'?"