White House blames 'bad actor' Russia for Douma 'chemical attack,' no timetable for response
Asked to respond to Moscow's claims that the "civil defense" group White Helmets, which has links to Syrian rebels, was behind the April 7 incident, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told the media during an emergency briefing that "the intelligence provided certainly paints a different picture, and the President holds Syria and Russia responsible."
When confronted about US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis' statement that the US was still "assessing intelligence" about the specifics of what happened in the Islamist-controlled suburb of Damascus, Huckabee Sanders answered that she "can't get into the details," but that the administration was "confident" that the attack was ordered by advancing government forces.
Huckabee Sanders went on to explain that even if it did not directly take part in what happened in Douma, Russia bears some of the blame for the alleged attack, as it blocked six Western-backed resolutions on Syria, which supposedly failed to clear the country of chemical weapons following the 2013 Ghouta attack. More generally, she added that Russia has been a "bad actor" for the duration of the seven-year conflict.
The press secretary nonetheless refused to say if the US president's Wednesday statement that Russia should "get ready" for "nice and new and 'smart'" American missiles to strike Syria mean that the US is about to use force.
"We have a number of options and all of those options are still on the table - final decisions haven't been made yet on that front," Huckabee Sanders said in answer to half a dozen differently-worded questions, adding, at one point, that "no timetable" has been set for any intervention.
The UN’s chemical weapons watchdog, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), announced back in June 2014 that all chemical weapons stockpiles had been removed from Syria. The joint UN-OPCW mission then stated that Syria had destroyed all its declared chemical arsenals, production facilities, as well as its munitions. This was made possible after Syria joined the Chemical Weapons Convention in a ground-breaking deal brokered by Russia and the US in September 2013.
Russia has denounced the allegations that it was complicit in the alleged attack on civilians in the rebel-held town, saying that video and photo evidence obtained through the White Helmets appears to be fabricated. The Russian military reached out to local medical officials and was told that no patients with symptoms of chemical poisoning had been admitted to the Douma hospital.