WASHINGTON (CBSNewYork/AP) — President Donald Trump is condemning the chemical attack in Syria that left 72 people dead as an “affront to humanity” that “cannot be tolerated.”
Trump made the comments at the start of a joint news conference with Jordanian King Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein at the White House on Wednesday.
A suspected chemical attack in a town in Syria’s rebel-held northern Idlib province killed dozens of people on Tuesday in one of the worst attacks in the country’s six-year civil war. The Trump administration has blamed the attack on the government of President Bashar Assad.
“When you kill innocent children, innocent babies — babies, little babies — that crosses many, many lines. Beyond the red line. Many, many lines,” Trump said.
“These heinous actions by the Assad regime cannot be tolerated,” he added.
“This is happening on our watch, on our conscience,” Abdullah said.
As a private citizen, Trump repeatedly urged the U.S. to avoid direct involvement in the Syrian civil war. But now he’s president and his thinking has evolved.
As CBS2’s Tony Aiello reported, Trump blamed the Obama administration for a “mess” in Syria, but added, “I now have responsibility.”
He criticized former President Barack Obama for setting a red line in Syria on the use of banned weapons but failing to enforce it.
“I think that set us back a long ways, not only in Syria but in many other parts of the world,” he said.
Trump acknowledged Jordan’s role in hosting refugees from the conflict in Syria and announced that the U.S. will contribute more funds to the country for humanitarian assistance, saying that the goal of “any responsible refugee policy” is to pave the way for refugees to return home.
Trump also said that together the U.S. and Jordan will defeat ISIS, adding that the fight will be “shorter” than many people think.
“We will destroy ISIS and we will protect civilization, we have no choice,” Trump said.
Abdullah said he and President Trump had a “good round of talks,” and thanked the U.S. for their partnership and its “key” role in the fight against terrorism.
“Terrorism has no borders, no nationality, no religion,” Abdullah said, calling on other countries to help defeat the “international scourge.” “We should not expect the U.S. to do the heavy lifting, the heavy lifting has to be done by all of us in the international community.”
Trump met with the Jordanian leader Wednesday for the second time since the president’s inauguration.
“Working together the United States and Jordan can help bring peace and stability to the Middle East and in fact the entire world and we will do that,” Trump said.
There are questions as to whether Wednesday’s meeting can lead to the restarting of stalled Israeli-Palestinian talks.
Meanwhile, the United States ambassador to the United Nations dismissed claims the chemical weapons came from a rebel stockpile, blaming President Assad and his allies in Russia.
“Assad has no incentive to stop using chemical weapons as long as Russia continues to protect his regime from consequences,” Ambassador Nikki Haley said Wednesday at an emergency meeting at the UN.
“We need to do more,” Sen. John Barrasso of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said. “This activity must stop, and it may be important for the United States to step in.”
How will the Trump administration respond now? The president refused to tip his hand.
“Militarily, I don’t like to say where I’m going or what I’m doing,” he said.
At a summit last week, Arab leaders renewed an offer they made in 2002 — recognition of Israel by Arab nations in exchange for the creation of a Palestinian state. Abdullah told Trump that Arab leaders are serious about achieving a “historic reconciliation between Israel” and the Arab world.
“It is the most comprehensive framework for lasting peace and it ensures statehood for the Palestinians, but also security, acceptance and normal ties for Israel with all Arab countries and hopefully all Islamic countries,” Abdullah said.
Earlier, there was a shakeup at the White House.
The president’s key adviser, Steve Bannon, was removed from his controversial role on the National Security Council. Despite Bannon’s master’s degree in national security studies, critics complained a political operative had no place on the council.
The move was portrayed by the White House as a vote of confidence in National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, rather than a demotion for Bannon.
Trump did not mention the move during his remarks.
The visit of the Jordanian royals also marked the most high-profile day in recent weeks for First Lady Melania Trump. She and the equally glamorous Queen Rania of Jordan greeted students at a Washington, D.C. charter school and attended a seminar on empowering young people through education.
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)