Senators to Trump: Don't shift blame for Syria gas attack

AFP , Wednesday 5 Apr 2017

President Donald Trump should not point to his White House predecessor about a recent deadly chemical weapons attack on Syrian civilians but directly blame that nation's regime instead, Republican and Democratic senators urged Wednesday.

Republican Senator Marco Rubio and Senate Democrat Ben Cardin were introducing a resolution assailing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his forces for apparently using chemical weapons in an attack that left 86 civilians dead, including 30 children.

They also demanded a sharper position against Assad by the Trump administration, whose senior officials recently suggested it was no longer a priority that Assad be removed from power.

"This needs to become a priority," Rubio said at a press conference with Cardin, both of whom branded Assad a war criminal.

"I don't think it's a secret that I disagreed with many of the decisions made by the Obama administration on foreign policy, but that presidency's over. We have a new presidency," Rubio said.

"Bottom line is, the people who killed these children are Bashar al-Assad with the assistance of Vladimir Putin's military forces," Rubio added, referring to the presidents of Syria and Russia, respectively.

The Assad regime stands accused of conducting the latest chemical weapons assault, believed to be the worst since 2013 in the war-ravaged nation.

On Tuesday, Trump blamed Obama for failing to enforce his "red line" after Assad used chemical weapons four years ago.

"President Obama said in 2012 that he would establish a 'red line' against the use of chemical weapons and then did nothing," he said.

Trump offered stronger criticism of Assad Wednesday, labeling the latest attack an "affront to humanity."

Still, lawmakers were eager to see the new administration formulate a firm position on Syria.

"We need to know President Trump's policies for countering these atrocities and the challenges we have," Cardin said.

Cardin, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called for the formulation of clear US policy that Assad has "no legitimacy as the leader of Syria and no future as the leader of Syria."

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson raised eyebrows last week when he said Assad's fate was up to the Syrian people, and that the primary US goal was defeating the Islamic State (IS) militants in Syria and Iraq.

Rubio said he does "not believe it is coincidental" that the attack followed such comments.

But he placed the blame squarely on Assad's forces.

"Any effort to take even an iota of blame away from the people truly responsible does not further the cause that we seek to make and bring light to today," he said.

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