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AP sources: US, France and UK discuss response to gas attacks



WASHINGTON – Trump government officials have consulted with global allies over a possible joint military response to Syria's alleged poison gas attack when President Donald Trump canceled a trip abroad to face a one-off crisis testing his pledge against Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Trump spoke with other world leaders, and other US officials said the US, France and Britain had already had sweeping military talks this week. None of the leaders of the three countries had made a firm decision, officials said, who have no authority to discuss military planning by name.

A joint military operation, possibly with France in the lead, with the US at the helm, could send a message from international unity on the enforcement of chemical weapons bans and against Russia's and Iran's political and military support for Syria.

President Emmanuel Macron said France, the US and Britain would decide how to respond in the next few days. He called for a "strong and shared response" to the Syrian city of Douma on Saturday, in which Syrian activists and rescuers killed 40 people. The Syrian government denies responsibility

The French president does not need a parliamentary permit to launch a military operation. France is already participating in the US-led coalition that was formed in 201

4 to fight the Islamic State Group in Syria and Iraq. Several IS attacks have targeted French soil, including one last month.

Trump suggested on Monday that he had little doubt that the Syrian government forces were responsible for a chemical attack, but neither he nor any other government officials have put forward any hard evidence. Officials suggested that such evidence is missing or at least not yet available. This is in contrast to a year ago incident in which US intelligence agencies had video and other evidence of certain aspects of the actual attack involving the use of sarin gas. Trump responded by launching naval cruise missiles at a Syrian airfield.

One official said the US, France and Britain would consider military options that would be more extensive than the one-day penalty hit last April. This strike did not appear to have had the desired effect of preventing Assad from further using chemical agents. Thus, the three countries discuss a number of options, including preventing Assad's future attacks by military attacks, the official said.

When asked if France would take military action, Macron said his country would continue to discuss technical and strategic information with US and British allies and "in the next few days we will announce our decision". He said that any action would attack "chemical weapons" supplies. Under a 2013 agreement for which Russia was a guarantor, Syria should have eliminated all its chemical weapons, but since then it has used chlorine and perhaps other chemicals.

Trump spoke to British Prime Minister Theresa May over the phone. A British government statement said the two agreed that the attack in Syria was "absolutely reprehensible" and that the international community must respond "to confirm the global ban on the use of chemical weapons". Trump met in the White House with the Emir of Qatar. Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani told reporters that he and Trump are "on par with the Syrian problem.

"We can not tolerate a war criminal," the Emir said, adding, "This matter should end immediately." Qatar hosts the United States' main operations center for the Middle East, which would coordinate any American air strike in Syria. 19659005] A monitoring organization, the Chemical Weapons Prohibition Organization, announced that it would "send a reconnaissance mission to Douma" shortly "after receiving an application from the Syrian government and its Russian backers to investigate the allegations. It was not immediately clear if this visit would delay or avert US or Allied military action.

The Russian military, which has troops in Syria, said on Monday that its officers had visited the site of the alleged attack and found no evidence (19659005) Defense Secretary Jim Mattis canceled plans to travel to California this week, indicating his focus on Syria implies. He was expected to hold further talks on Syria on Wednesday at a White House meeting. [1965900] White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump would not attend the 8th America Summit in Lima, Peru, or travel to Bogota, Colombia, as planned. She said he would stay home "to monitor the American response to Syria and monitor developments around the world."

The new national security adviser to the president, John Bolton, urged Trump to skip the journey, an official said. This reflects a view in the White House that deeper Russian and Iranian involvement in Syria requires complicated calculations of a response to a US military attack, the official said, under the condition of anonymity, to discuss internal consultations. Moscow has warned the US not to launch a military attack.

In the midst of the White House's tough talk, the US military seemed to be able to execute any attack order. A naval destroyer, the USS Donald Cook, began on Monday in the eastern Mediterranean after a harbor call in Cyprus. The guided missile destroyer is armed with tomahawk cruise missiles, the weapon of choice in a US attack a year ago on an airfield in Syria following an alleged sarin gas attack on civilians.

The USS Harry S. Truman aircraft carrier and strike group will fly to Norfolk, Virginia on Wednesday for regular service to Europe. The Navy currently has no carrier in the Persian Gulf.

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Associated Press writer Angela Charlton of Paris, Edith M. Lederer of New York, and Jill Colvin, Ken Thomas, Catherine Lucey, and Matthew Lee of Washington contributed to this report

Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, transmitted, rewritten or redistributed.


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