Washington has also intensified its talks with Turkey to thwart an expected assault on northern Syrian province
US renews warning to Assad and calls for Security Council meeting on Idlib
The Trump government is pursuing several diplomatic tracks in its attempt to thwart an Assad regime offensive in the northern province of Idlib, including convening a meeting at the United Nations Security Council on Friday.
US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, on her first day of presiding over the Security Council, announced the meeting. Ms Haley said the US was trying to stop “something before it starts”, explaining that the use of chemical weapons will not be tolerated in any Idlib offensive.
“This is a tragic situation, and if they want to continue to go the route of taking over Syria, they can do that … but they cannot do it with chemical weapons. They can’t do it assaulting their people and we’re not going to fall for it,” Ms Haley said at a UN press conference.
“If there are chemical weapons that are used, we know exactly who’s going to use them,” she said.
Her warning came as US officials intensified talks with Turkey to co-ordinate a response to an expected offensive by the regime. The US embassy in Turkey announced that Special Representative for Syria Engagement James Jeffrey and Deputy Assistant Secretary Joel Rayburn held talks with Turkish officials on Tuesday to “underscore the importance of continued US-Turkish co-operation in resolving the Syrian conflict in a manner consistent with UNSCR 2254”.
Separately, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held a phone call with Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and “both agreed that any Assad regime military offensive in Idlib would be an unacceptable, reckless escalation of the conflict in Syria”, according to the State Department.
Turkey shares a border with Idlib and could be crucial in co-ordinating humanitarian access for roughly 2.5 million civilians in the province.
At the Pentagon, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen Joseph Dunford, warned of a “humanitarian catastrophe.”
“If major military operations take place we can expect humanitarian catastrophe and I think we would all want to see that be avoided,” Gen Dunford told reporters during a trip to Athens.
The White House also released a statement warning Syrian President Bashar Al Assad that if he “chooses to again use chemical weapons, the United States and its Allies will respond swiftly and appropriately”.
Russia carried out air strikes in Idlib on Tuesday, and it remains unclear how the US-Turkey co-ordination will play out if a major operation is carried out.