White House warns of potential U.S. ‘red line’ over Syria barrel bomb attacks

The Guardian reports: The Trump administration has signalled much broader grounds for future military intervention in Syria, suggesting it might retaliate against the Assad regime for barrel bomb attacks.

On the eve of a critical visit to Moscow at a time of high US-Russian tensions over Syria, the US secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, appeared to go even further, saying his country would come to the defence of innocent civilians “anywhere in the world”.

The administration had initially stressed strictly limited objectives for a cruise missile strike last week on a Syrian air force base, saying it was intended to deter the repeat of a chemical attack on Tuesday against civilians and that the focus of US efforts in Syria remains combating the Islamic State (Isis).

On Monday, however, the White House spokesman, Sean Spicer, widened the criteria for retaliation. “When you watch babies and children being gassed, and suffer under barrel bombs, you are instantaneously moved to action,” he said. “I think this president’s made it very clear that if those actions were to continue, further action will definitely be considered by the United States.”

On Tuesday diplomats gathered in Italy for a second day of G7 talks dominated by the war in Syria, as officials in Washington, the UK and elsewhere floated the possibility of new sanctions on the Syrian and Russian military.

US intelligence believes Assad carried out last week’s attack with the chemical agent sarin, killing dozens of civilians including children. But Spicer made the first mention of the use of barrel bombs – crude munitions that can cause indiscriminate casualties.

Pressed on whether chemical warfare as opposed to conventional warfare constitutes a red line, he replied: “I think the president’s been very clear that there were a number of lines crossed last week … The answer is if you gas a baby, if you put a barrel bomb into innocent people, I think you will see a response from this president. That is unacceptable.”

The White House said later that Spicer was referring to barrel bombs carrying industrial chemicals like chlorine. But that would still represent a substantial expansion of the US rules of engagement in Syria. The regime is suspected of using chlorine gas in its attacks on dozens of occasions since 2013. [Continue reading…]

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