President Trump said in a tweet early Thursday that he had never telegraphed the timing of an attack on Syria, and that such a strike — for which he put Russia and Syria on notice just one day earlier — “could be very soon or not so soon at all!”
France, on Thursday, said that it had proof the Syrian regime had utilized chemical weapons in a deadly attack near Syria’s capital on Saturday.
Britain’s cabinet is scheduled to meet on Thursday to discuss joining a military operation with the United States, the BBC reported. British submarines were ordered within missile range of Syria, according to The Daily Telegraph.
And Germany announced that it would not be component of any coordinated military action in Syria. German Chancellor Angela Merkel stressed the importance of Western powers sending a clear, united message that utilizing chemical weapons “is unacceptable.”
“Germany will not take part in probable military action — I want to make clear again that there are no decisions,” Ms. Merkel said after meeting with Lars Lokke Rasmussen of Denmark in Berlin.
Germany refused to take part in the U.S.-led war in Iraq, and in 2011 abstained from a U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing the use of military force to protect civilians in Libya.
Heeding Mr. Trump’s warning on Wednesday about an American response, Syria has moved military aircraft to the Russian base near Latakia, and is working to protect important weapons systems. The Russians and Iranians have also been preparing for an American response, and the Trump administration’s delay in acting is giving Syria and its allies more time to prepare.
Mr. Trump has previously belittled American leaders for giving the enemy advance warnings of a strike. In his tweet on Thursday, the president defended his warning a day earlier and came to try to reintroduce the element of surprise over a probable American missile strike, underscoring what critics have described as a confusing policy on United States involvement in Syria.
The Trump administration, which has not yet confirmed the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime, is looking to coordinate its response with allies, including France and Britain.
The president’s tweets about a probable response isn’t helping that effort, said Kevin Ryan, a retired Army brigadier general who is now a combine at Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.
“When the commander in chief speaks publicly about a potential military action, it makes boundaries and limits on what his subordinates can offer him as options,” Mr. Ryan said. “That’s helpful if his public statements are thoughtful and clear. If those statements are confused and unclear, then they are a hindrance to the outcome. I think the latter is happening right now.”
Earlier this month, Mr. Trump surprised even his own advisers when he said he wanted the United States to immediately withdraw troops from Syria. His request changed hours later after a National Security Council meeting, and the president decided to keep America’s 2,000 troops in Syria with the goal of bringing them home within a few months. The suspected chemical weapons attack on Saturday, however, enraged the president, and he promised a decision on an American response this week.
“We seem to say things and then move on,” Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee, said Wednesday on Fox News Radio’s The Brian Kilmeade Show.
“The president has said, though, what he was going to do, I think it is important as a nation that we follow through on those things, we’ve waited too long already,” said Mr. Corker, who is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and is retiring from the Senate at the end of this year.
President Emmanuel Macron of France said on Thursday that French authorities had proof that the Syrian regime had launched the chemical attack. The Americans have not yet appear to that conclusion.
“We have proof that last week, 10 days ago even, chemical weapons were utilized — at least chlorine — and that they were used by the regime of Bashar al-Assad,” Mr. Macron said in an interview on TF1, a French television station.
Mr. Macron, who did not detail what particular proof he was referring to, said that France was working in close coordination with the Trump administration on the issue.
“We will have decisions to make in good time, when we decide that it is most useful and most efficient,” he said, referring to potential military strikes, and adding that any strikes would target the regime’s chemical infrastructure.
Mr. Macron also said France would go ahead to push for a cease-fire at the United Nations and for humanitarian aid for civilian populations on the ground, to avoid, he said, “the terrible images of crimes that we saw, with children and women who were dying by suffocation, because they were subjected to chlorine.”
The French have warplanes equipped with cruise missiles in Jordan and in the United Arab Emirates, which are within striking range of Syria.