Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Thursday that the administration is certain that Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad was behind the country’s recent deadly chemical attack.
“There’s no doubt in our mind that the Syrian regime, under the leadership of Bashar al-Assad, is responsible for this horrific attack,” he told reporters.
Tillerson, who next week will travel to Moscow to meet with Russia’s foreign minister, also criticized the Kremlin, saying: “It is very important that the Russian government consider carefully their continued support for the Assad regime.”
The secretary’s remarks came in response to reports that more than 80 people — including dozens of children — were killed following the release of toxic gases in the Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun.
Tillerson suggested Assad should no longer lead Syria in the wake of the horrible chemical assault and said “steps are underway” in the international community to remove the dictator from power.
“Assad’s role in the future is uncertain, clearly,” he said. “With the acts that he has taken, it would seem that there would be no role for him to govern the Syrian people.”
The chief diplomat, however, did not go into detail about how the U.S. plans to exactly push for Assad’s ouster. Earlier today, reports surfaced that President Donald Trump was considering the use of military power against the Assad regime.
When pressed by reporters on the issue, the president, who was aboard Air Force One en route to his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping, said “something should happen,” though he didn’t specifically mention military power.
“I think what Assad did is terrible. I think what happened in Syria is one of the truly egregious crimes. It shouldn’t have happened. It shouldn’t be allowed to happen,” Trump said, according to CNN. “I think what happened in Syria is a disgrace to humanity. He’s there, and I guess he’s running things, so something should happen.”
During a joint press briefing Wednesday alongside Jordan’s King Abdullah II, Trump told reporters that the chemical attack in Syria “crossed a lot of lines” in his mind, adding that killing innocent children “with a chemical gas that is so lethal” is “beyond a red line.”
The “red line” comment was a reference to the ultimatum former President Barack Obama issued to the Assad regime — one he ultimately did not enforce when the dictator’s government employed chemical weapons in 2013.
Previously, Trump had taken a much different tone toward Assad. In fact, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said last week that the administration viewed Assad’s regime as “a political reality that we have to accept” and, on the campaign trial, then-candidate Trump called Assad “much tougher and much smarter” than both Obama and then-Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
But by Wednesday, the president’s tone had shifted.
“I do change,” he said.