Conflicting reports from unnamed U.S. officials regarding Russia’s involvement in the Syrian chemical weapon attack highlight the increasingly tenuous political situation the United States and Russia find themselves in.
After an anonymous U.S. official told news organizations that Russia knew in advance that Syria intended to gas civilians, and then participated in a cover up operation, other government sources refuted the claim, saying there was no indication of a direct Russian link.
The initial claim of Russian complicity came after a surveillance drone was seen observing a Syrian hospital that was receiving victims of the gas attack. Shortly after the victims arrived, the hospital was bombed by a Russian-made jet.
The anonymous source said that Syrian forces do not possess such advanced drone technology, and the bombing of the hospital is proof of direct Russian involvement. By killing the victims of the gas attack, it is theorized, the attack itself could be covered up.
Of course, the use of ‘anonymous officials’ as sources has the serious potential for misleading or outright wrong information leaking to the press.
As Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrives in Moscow on Tuesday, the U.S. is seeking to leverage the diplomatic clout and widespread international support garnered from President Trump’s decision to launch a cruise missile strike that destroyed a fifth of the Syrian air force. Many nations, including traditionally reluctant allies like Germany, voiced strong support for the decision to attack the Assad regime.
The issue of Assad will continue to define U.S.-Russia relations at least for the short-term. Last week, prior to the chemical weapons attack in Idlib, the Trump Administration had essentially changed the American position advocating regime change, one that had been in place for years, and instead choosing to focus almost exclusively on the fight against the Islamic State. American Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said as much by indicating it was no longer the position of the United States to seek the ouster of Bashar al Assad.
National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, in an interview on Sunday, attempted to smooth out any inconsistencies with regard to messaging by saying “the defeat of ISIS” and “a significant change in the nature of the Assad regime and its behavior in particular,” are the primary U.S. goals in Syria.
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