Syria Denies Planning Another Chemical Attack
BEIRUT, Lebanon — Syrian and Russian officials on Tuesday rejected an accusation from the White House that Syrian forces were preparing to launch a chemical weapons attack, calling the statement a provocation.
The rebuttals came in response to a White House statement late Monday saying that Syria appeared to be preparing a new chemical attack and warning that the government of President Bashar al-Assad would “pay a heavy price” if it carried one out.
The accusation appeared to catch American military and diplomatic officials off guard, and it remains unclear if it was based on raw intelligence that President Trump had chosen to declassify.
In Damascus, Ali Haidar, the Syrian minister for national reconciliation, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the government did not have chemical weapons and that it would not use any. He accused the White House of releasing the statement to pave the way for a “diplomatic battle” against Syria at the United Nations.
Officials in Russia, which has provided military and political support to Mr. Assad throughout the Syrian conflict, also rejected the accusations.
“I am not aware of any information about a threat that chemical weapons can be used,” Dmitry S. Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, said on Tuesday. “Certainly, we consider such threats to the legitimate leadership of the Syrian Arab Republic unacceptable.”
A senior Russian lawmaker accused the United States of using the declaration about chemical weapons to plan an attack on Syria.
“Preparations for a new cynical and unprecedented provocation are underway,” Frants Klintsevich, first deputy chairman of the defense and security committee in the upper chamber of the Russian Parliament, told the state-owned news agency RIA Novosti.
The United States and other world powers have accused Mr. Assad’s forces of repeatedly using chemical weapons to subdue rebels seeking to topple his government. Chemical attacks killed more than 1,000 people near Damascus in 2013 and dozens more in northern Syria in April of this year.
Mr. Trump has taken a different approach to the use of chemical weapons in Syria than his predecessor, President Barack Obama, did. After the 2013 attack, Mr. Obama declined to strike the Syrian government, despite having declared the use of chemical weapons a “red line.” Instead, he agreed to a deal, proposed by Russia, for the Syrian government to dispose of its chemical weapons stockpiles and manufacturing capabilities.
But American officials suspect that Syria kept some of its chemical weapons capabilities. After the attack in April, Mr. Trump ordered 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles to be fired at the air base from which the attack originated.