President Donald Trump on Thursday softened his rhetoric about potential airstrikes on Syria, a day after warning Russia that missiles “will be coming, nice and new and ‘smart.'”
In an early morning tweet and later in comments at the White House, Trump attempted to cloud the timing of military action — a day after indicating it was imminent — and said a final decision had not yet been made.
“Never said when an attack on Syria would take place. Could be very soon or not so soon at all!,” the President tweeted. Trump notably did not rule out plans to attack Syria in retaliation for the weekend’s suspected chemical attack on civilians at the hands of the Assad regime.
The President, however, did not specifically refer to the attack’s timing in his Wednesday tweet, though he warned Russia to “get ready.” In Thursday’s tweet, Trump also suggested he did not get enough credit for US gains against ISIS in the region, asking, “Where is our ‘Thank you America?'”
Speaking to reporters at the White House later in the day, Trump said a decision had not yet been made on a course of action.
“We’re looking very, very seriously, very closely, at that whole situation,” the President said during a meeting with farm state lawmakers. “We have to make some further decisions. So they’ll be made fairly soon.”
Secretary of Defense James Mattis echoed the President when he told lawmakers Thursday, “We have not yet made any decision to launch military attacks into Syria.”
The President will meet with his national security team at the White House on Thursday for further discussions on the US response.
Trump on Wednesday vowed to thwart Russia’s missile defense system in Syria, warning that rockets “will be coming, nice and new and ‘smart.'” In tweeting about a potential attack, Trump appeared to publicly telegraph military plans — something for which he heavily criticized former President Barack Obama back in 2013.
Mattis said Wednesday that the US is “still assessing the intelligence” on whether the Assad regime is to blame for the recent suspected chemical attack. Russia has blamed Syrian opposition forces for the attack.
Trump has consulted with US allies, particularly France and the United Kingdom, about a coordinated response to the suspected chemical attack, but officials say they have not reached a firm agreement on scale or timing. The British Prime Minister, Theresa May, was convening a meeting of her Cabinet on Thursday afternoon, at which she is expected to make the case for supporting the US in any military action against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova warned against a missile strike, writing on Facebook Wednesday that it could destroy evidence on the ground and interrupt the work of international investigators.
“Smart missiles should fly toward terrorists, not the legal government that has been fighting international terrorism for several years on its territory,” Zakharova wrote in response to Trump’s Wednesday tweet.
Should the President follow through on his warnings of an attack, two US Navy destroyers armed with Tomahawk cruise missiles are in position and ready to be called into action, among other assets including jets and submarines.