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Trump Says Putin Will Pay a Price for Chemical Attack in Syria, Vows to Respond to Atrocities by End of Day

In a moment of anger over the suspected use of chemical weapons against civilians in Syria, President Donald Trump did something he has repeatedly avoided throughout his time in office: got tough with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

During a cabinet meeting held Monday, Trump launched the conversation by condemning what he called a “heinous attack on innocent Syrians with banned chemical weapons.” 

On Saturday evening, civilians in the Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta were killed in what many believe was a chemical weapons attack. 

The Syrian government and Moscow have both denied that they were involved in Saturday’s attack, blaming Islamist rebels instead. Trump, however, appeared unconvinced and pledged that in the next 24 to 48 hours his administration would decide how to respond to the attack that killed at least 60 people.

“It was an atrocious attack. It was horrible. You don’t see things like that. As bad as the news is around the world, you just don’t see those images,” Trump told those assembled in the cabinet room, including his new national security adviser, John Bolton, who was starting his first day on the job.

“If it's Russia, if it's Syria, if it's Iran, if it's all of them together, we'll figure it out, and we'll know the answers quite soon. So we're looking at that very, very strongly and very seriously,” Trump noted.

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When asked if Putin himself might be responsible for the attacks, Trump responded that the Russian president would pay the price if he was involved in the use of chemical weapons.  

“He may. Yeah, he may. And if he does, it's going to be very tough. Very tough,” Trump said about whether Putin was responsible. “Everybody is going to pay a price. He will. Everybody will."

The president added that “nothing is off the table,” including U.S. military action. 

Videos emerged over the weekend of dead bodies frothing at the mouth. The Syrian-American Medical Society claimed that more than 500 people were brought to medical centers in Eastern Ghouta with symptoms "indicative of exposure to a chemical agent," including breathing problems and bluish skin.

Russia, which is backing Assad’s claim to power in Syria, is theoretically responsible for ensuring that Damascus abandon its chemical weapons. But the Syrian regime has reportedly used chemical weapons on numerous occasions. Exactly one year ago, the Trump administration launched an attack on a Syrian airfield in response to reports that the Syrian government had used chemical weapons against civilians in the province of Idlib.

For months, civilians trapped in the Damascus suburb of East Ghouta have been under siege by forces loyal to Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad. In January, U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley accused Russia of negligence for allowing its ally in Damascus to use chlorine gas against civilians in the rebel-held area. During an attack in January, 20 people died, most of them children.

Still, Monday’s comments were made less than a week after Trump began publicly announcing plans for a full U.S. military withdrawal from Syria. And Trump has repeatedly avoided calling Putin out by name or blaming him for a wide range of aggressions in foreign countries. Most recently, he failed to comment on the poisoning of a former Russian intelligence officer in Britain after U.S. administration officials and U.S. allies blamed Moscow for the attack.

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