Late Thursday night, President Donald Trump gave an impromptu press conference to explain why had decided to authorize the strike on a Syrian airfield just a few hours earlier.
On Tuesday Syrian President Bashar al Assad launched a horrible chemical attack on innocent civilians using a deadly nerve agent.
Tonight I ordered a targeted military strike on the airfield in Syria from where the chemical attack was launched. It is in this vital national security interest of the Untied States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons.
There can be no dispute that Syria used banned chemical weapons, violated its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention and ignored the urging of the UN Security Council. Numerous previous attempts at changing Assad’s behavior have all found and failed very dramatically.
As a result, the refugee crisis continues to deepen and the region continues to destabilize, threatening the United States and its allies. Tonight I call on all civilized nations to join us in seeking to end the slaughter and bloodshed in Syrian and also to end terrorism of all kinds and all types.
We asked for God’s wisdom as we face the challenge of our very troubled world. We pray for the lives of the wounded and for the souls of those who passed.
And we hope as long as America stands for justice and peace and harmony will in the end prevail. Good night and God Bless America and the entire world.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had foreshadowed the attack earlier in the day when he warned Syria that the world would no longer abide Syria’s criminal activities.
“The process by which Assad would leave is something that I think requires an international community effort, both to first defeat ISIS within Syria, to stabilize the Syrian country, to avoid further civil war, and then to work collectively with our partners around the world through a political process that would lead to Assad leaving,” Tillerson said. “Those steps are underway.”
Later in the evening, after President Trump’s remarks, Secretary Tillerson and National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster met with the White House press corps to answer questions about the strike.
SECRETARY TILLERSON: Good evening, all. I particularly want to try to just give you a little bit of background on how we got to the statements by the President and the actions that were taken tonight.
As you’re well aware, Bashar al-Assad has carried out chemical attacks this past week on civilians, including women and children, and carried out attacks earlier this – last month, March 25th and 30th, in Hama province as well. We have a very high level of confidence that the attacks were carried out by aircraft under the direction of the Bashar al-Assad regime, and we also have very high confidence that the attacks involved the use of sarin nerve gas. At least the past three attacks, we have fairly high – we have high confidence on that.
I think it’s also clear that previous agreements that had been entered into pursuant to UN Security Council Resolution 2118, as well as Annex A agreements that the Syrian Government themselves accepted back in 2013 whereby they would surrender their chemical weapons under the supervision of the Russian Government, and the U.S. and the Russian Government entered into agreements whereby Russia would locate these weapons, they would secure the weapons, they would destroy the weapons, and that they would act as the guarantor that these weapons would no longer be present in Syria.
Clearly, Russia has failed in its responsibility to deliver on that commitment from 2013. So either Russia has been complicit or Russia has been simply incompetent in its ability to deliver on its end of that agreement.
I think the other thing that it’s important to recognize that as Assad has continued to use chemical weapons in these attacks with no response – no response from the international community – that he, in effect, is normalizing the use of chemical weapons, which may then be adopted by others. So it’s important that some action be taken on behalf of the international community to make clear that the use of chemical weapons continues to be a violation of international norms.
I think it’s also important to recognize, as I think everyone does, the chaotic circumstances that exist on the ground in Syria, with the presence of a battle underway to defeat ISIS, the presence of al-Qaida elements inside of Syria, and a civil war that is underway. So clearly, one of the existential threats we see on the ground in Syria is, if there are weapons of this nature available in Syria, the ability to secure those weapons and not have them fall into the hands of those who would bring those weapons to our shores to harm American citizens.
So there are a number of elements that, in our view, called for this action tonight, which we feel is appropriate. We feel the strike itself was proportional because it was targeted at the facility that delivered this most recent chemical weapons attack. And in carrying this out, we coordinated very carefully with our international partners in terms of communicating with them around the world, and I will tell you that the response from our allies as well – in Europe as well as in the region in the Middle East has been overwhelmingly supportive of the action we’ve taken.
So I’ll leave it there and let me turn it to NSA Director McMaster.
NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR MCMASTER: I really have very little to add, except to say that it was important during the President’s deliberations and the deliberations with his leadership that we weighed, of course, the risk associated with any military action, we weighed that against – against the risk of inaction, which Secretary Tillerson has already really summarized, which is the risk of this continued, egregious, inhumane attacks on innocent civilians with chemical weapons.
And so really, nothing else to add to the Secretary’s summary, and we’re happy to take any questions that you have.
You can read the transcript from their question and answer session here.