Moscow, London – Russian Foreign Sergei Lavrov announced on Wednesday that his country will respond with “dignity and in proportion” if the United States took preemptive measures against the Syrian regime forces should they launch a new chemical attack.
He hoped during a press conference with his German counterpart that Washington would not use its intelligence assessments about the regime’s intentions as a pretext to mount a “provocation” in Syria.
Meanwhile, US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis stated that regime head Bashar Assad appeared so far to have heeded a warning this week from Washington not to carry out a chemical weapons attack.
The White House said on Monday it appeared the Syrian regime was preparing to conduct a such an attack and said that Assad and his forces would “pay a heavy price” if it did so.
The warning was based on intelligence that indicated preparations for such a strike were under way at Syria’s Shayrat airfield, US officials said.
The intelligence consisted of a Syrian warplane being observed moving into a hangar at the Shayrat airbase, where US and allied intelligence agencies suspect the Assad regime is hiding chemical weapons, said a second US official.
“It appears that they took the warning seriously,” Mattis said. “They didn’t do it,” he told reporters flying with him to Brussels for a meeting of NATO defense ministers.
“I think that Assad’s chemical program goes far beyond one airfield,” he said.
The Syrian regime meanwhile said the US warning was baseless, deeming it a ploy to justify a new attack on the country, state television said.
It quoted a foreign ministry source as saying Washington’s allegations about an intended attack were not only misleading but also “devoid of any truth and not based on any facts.”
The Russian Foreign Ministry had said the US statements on Syria’s chemical arsenal are an “invitation” for terrorist and extremist groups and the armed opposition to carry out “new provocative chemical attacks” to prompt Washington to retaliate against the regime.
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) is expected to issue within days the final report on the April Khan Sheikhoun chemical attack that was committed by the Syrian regime and left 74 people dead. The incident prompted the US to strike the Shayrat airbase in response.
Moscow has been insistent that a joint committee be formed to investigate the chemical attack.
The Foreign Ministry said that this committee should not only look into the Khan Sheikhoun incident, but other chemical attacks in Syria and Iraq.