MOSCOW — A senior Russian lawmaker on Tuesday dismissed the United States’ warning about a potential chemical weapons attack in Syria as an “unprecedented provocation,” and the Kremlin called the accusations against Syria’s government “unacceptable.”
In a stern warning to Syrian President Bashar Assad Monday night, the White House claimed “potential” evidence that Syria was preparing for another chemical weapons attack.
Assad has denied responsibility for the April 4 attack in the rebel-held Idlib province that killed dozens of people, and Russia, Assad’s key backer, .
Frants Klintsevich, first deputy chairman of the defense and security committee at the upper chamber of the Russian parliament, on Tuesday accused the United States of “preparing a new attack on the positions of Syrian forces.” In comments to state-owned RIA Novosti, he added: “Preparations for a new cynical and unprecedented provocation are underway.”
Speaking later in Moscow, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that Mocow considers “such threats against the Syrian leadership to be unacceptable.”
British Foreign Minister Michael Fallon, however, told the BBC on Tuesday that the U.K. government would support any U.S. military action in case of a Syria chemical attack.
“As always in war, the military action you use must be justified, it must be legal, it must proportionate, it must be necessary. In the last case it was,” Fallon said.
“If the Americans take similar action again, I want to be very clear — we will support it.”
In an ominous statement issued with no supporting evidence or further explanation, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Monday that the U.S. had “identified potential preparations for another chemical weapons attack by the Assad regime that would likely result in the mass murder of civilians, including innocent children.”
He said the activities observed were similar to preparations taken before April 2017 chemical attack that killed dozens of men, women and children, and warned that if “Mr. Assad conducts another mass murder attack using chemical weapons, he and his military will pay a heavy price.”
The strike ordered by Mr. Trump on the Syrian airbase in retaliation for that attack was the first direct American assault on Syrian forces, and Mr. Trump’s most dramatic military order since becoming president just several months earlier.
Mr. Trump said at the time that the chemical attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun had crossed “many, many lines,” and put the blame squarely on Assad’s forces.
Syria reiterated its insistence that it had never used chemical weapons, and blamed opposition fighters for stockpiling the chemicals. Russia’s Defense Ministry said the toxic agents were released when a Syrian airstrike hit a rebel chemical weapons arsenal and munitions factory.
Chemical weapons have killed hundreds of people since the start of the conflict, with the U.N. blaming three attacks on the Syrian government and a fourth on the Islamic State group.
Nikki Haley, the United States Ambassador to the United Nations, added Monday on Twitter: “Any further attacks done to the people of Syria will be blamed on Assad, but also on Russia & Iran who support him killing his own people.”
The U.N. Security Council is meeting on Tuesday morning on Syria, expected to be briefed by Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura on political developments, CBS News’ Pamela Falk reports, and Council members will consider new information on chemical weapons attacks, during consultations following the meeting, diplomats said.