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Trump blames Putin for backing ‘Animal Assad’

President Donald Trump also blamed former President Barack Obama in connection with the attack. | Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

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President Donald Trump on Sunday leveled his most direct criticism yet at Vladimir Putin, taking to Twitter to say the Russian president bears responsibility for a deadly chemical weapons attack in Syria, even as Trump weighs ending the U.S. presence in the war-torn country.

“Many dead, including women and children, in mindless CHEMICAL attack in Syria,” Trump wrote in a pair of tweets Sunday morning. “Area of atrocity is in lockdown and encircled by Syrian Army, making it completely inaccessible to outside world. President Putin, Russia and Iran are responsible for backing Animal Assad. Big price … to pay. Open area immediately for medical help and verification. Another humanitarian disaster for no reason whatsoever. SICK!”

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The tweets came after reports that a chemical attack left dozens of Syrians dead in a rebel-held town. The U.S. and other United Nations member states have called for an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council on the attack on Monday afternoon, Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley said in a statement Sunday.

“The Security Council has to come together and demand immediate access for first responders, support an independent investigation into what happened, and hold accountable those responsible for this atrocious act,” Haley said.

Some critics, though, linked the attack to Trump’s willingness to pull out of Syria. The president said last week that he wanted to “get out” of the country. “I want to bring our troops back home,” Trump said at a press conference.

“President Trump last week signaled to the world that the United States would prematurely withdraw from Syria,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said in a statement on Sunday. “Emboldened by American inaction, Assad has reportedly launched another chemical attack against innocent men, women and children.”

“It’s not too late to stop Assad’s impunity and begin to rewrite this terrible chapter in our history,” he said.

Regardless of how Trump decides to respond, his criticism of Putin was unusual.

Trump has raised questions in the past among allies and critics alike for his reluctance to criticize Putin, especially given his willingness to verbally accost everyone from Republican senators to the mayor of a hurricane-ravaged city. Trump has been especially reluctant to blame Russia for its interference in the 2016 election, which the intelligence community concluded was aimed at helping Trump. Special counsel Robert Mueller is currently leading an investigation into the election meddling and whether the Trump campaign colluded in the effort.

But chemical weapons attacks, particularly those that result in the deaths of children, have proved galvanizing for Trump. After an April 2017 attack, he launched missile strikes in Syria. Trump spoke repeatedly about the deaths of “small children” and “beautiful little babies” and seemed to be deeply affected by media images of the dead.

He has criticized former President Barack Obama, who said the use of chemical weapons would be a “red line” in Syria but later declined to use military force in response to such an attack. Trump tweeted Sunday: “If President Obama had crossed his stated Red Line In The Sand, the Syrian disaster would have ended long ago! Animal Assad would have been history!”

The recent attack seems to have again shaken the White House, with homeland security adviser Tom Bossert saying on Sunday that all options are on the table.

This photo released by the Syrian Civil Defense White Helmets, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows smoke rising after Syrian government airstrikes hit in the town of Douma, in eastern Ghouta region east of Damascus, Syria, Saturday, April. 7, 2018. Syrian government forces pressed their offensive against the last rebel-held town in eastern Ghouta near the capital Damascus on Saturday under the cover of airstrikes as shelling of civilian areas on both sides claimed more lives, state media and opposition activists said. (Syrian Civil Defense White Helmets via AP)

Trump could consider an array of responses, including another round of strikes or a U.N. Security Council resolution. However, because of Russia’s position in the council, it could veto any such resolution.

American allies also condemned the attack, with British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson releasing a statement calling it “horrific” and demanding that Russia not impede any investigation into the attack.

But the latest escalation in rhetoric comes at an awkward time for the White House, as Trump has said he wants to end American military involvement in Syria. The White House said recently that the military mission there “is coming to a rapid end.”

The United States says that both Russia and Iran are responsible for aiding the Syrian regime in its attacks on civilians.

Nahal Toosi contributed to this report.

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