US, Russia debate limit of US strike against Assad

The Trump administration is clearly on the brink of military action against the Assad regime judging by the thunderous rhetoric of its highest officials Wednesday night, April 5. President Donald Trump said the horrific chemical attack had “crossed many, many lines” for him. “It is now my responsibility to respond to the crisis. My attitude toward Syria and Assad has changed very much.”

Vice President Mike Pence said later that “all options are on the table,” while US Ambassador Nikki Haley warned the UN Security Council emergency meeting that countries could be "compelled to act individually if the world body does not take collective action after a deadly poison gas attack in Syria. The ambassador spoke in expectation of a Russian veto against the US-UK-French draft resolution condemning Syria for the use of chemical weapons.

Israel lined up behind Washington on this issue when Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman spoke of proof Thursday that the order to launch the sarin bombs against the town of Khan Sheikhun came directly from the Syrian leader Bashar Assad. Russian President Vladimir Putin, for his part is firing big guns both to defeat a UN condemnation of the Syrian ruler, by claiming the bomb hit a rebel toxic weapons store, and trying to head off an American military strike to punish him.

President Trump himself was still wrestling Thursday morning with three major decisions.

1. Determining the scale of a military operation in the complicated Syrian arena. Should it aim for a regime or a military target, or also extend the attack to the Iranian and Hizballah presence? The thinking behind the latter option is that if weakening Assad is the goal, why not go all the way and hit the foreign forces propping him up as well?

2. A clash with Russian forces must be avoided. However, Russia could agree to stay out of action in the Assad regime’s defense, but would certainly demand in return to be informed in advance of the precise limits of such mililtary operation.

debkafile’s military and intelligence sources reported Thursday that Washington and Moscow have been locked in intense negotiations for hours regarding the possible attack. The outcome is still awaited.

3. The arrival of Chinese President Xi Jinping Thursday for two days of talks with Trump at his Florida residence is a seriously complicating factor. A decision by the US president to go for military action against Syria would need to be powerful enough to impress his visitor of America's determination not only to cut Assad down but also the North Korean ruler Kim Jong-un, unless China steps in to curb its bellicose neighbor’s nuclear aspirations.

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