Graham: Assad is telling Trump 'FU'

Top aides to President Donald Trump demurred on Sunday over where USA policy on Syria was headed after last week's retaliatory missile strike, leaving open questions about whether removing Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad from power was now one of Trump's goals.

But about a week earlier, Haley said removing Assad from power wasn't a focus for the Trump administration.

Her comments appeared at odds with those of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who said the USA missile strike was aimed exclusively at deterring the use of chemical weapons by Assad. But the chemical weapons attack seemed to spur a rethink.

The Trump administration may now have to display diplomatic dexterity to accompany its military panache, if this "civilised" group is going to break the logjam of political hatreds within Syria or the alliances of regional powers with Assad and the rebel groups.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iran's Hassan Rouhani said in a phone call that aggressive USA actions against Syria were not permissible and violated global law, the Kremlin said on Sunday.

But the recent United States military strike has dashed the latter hopes to the ground - at least for now.

In Florida on Thursday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said of Assad: "There's no role for him to govern the Syrian people". The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition monitor, also put the death toll at seven, including a general and three soldiers.

The move immediately prompted a backlash from Russian President Vladimir Putin, who said it would damage US-Russian relations.

When CNN asked about United States allegations that Russian Federation may be complicit, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov replied via text message, "That is not true". "The consequences of this for regional and worldwide stability could be extremely serious", he warned. The United States and other countries should draw a blue print of the post-Assad administration while recognizing the complexity of Syria, which is viewed as an "active fault" in the Middle East. Russian Federation had its own military personnel at the Syrian military airport that the USA struck with cruise missiles.

The news agency reports that during the Friday phone call, the Saudi monarch congratulated Trump for his "courageous decision". Iran called it a "dangerous" unilateral action that would "strengthen terrorists" and further complicate the conflict.

A statement carried on the military media arm of Hezbollah condemned the American strike in much stronger language, saying it had "crossed red lines" and vowing to "reply with force" to any future aggression "in a variety of ways". France, Italy and Israel also welcomed the strikes.

If the United States is only satisfied with the latest attack and fails to commit itself to resolving the Syrian crisis, the situation would only worsen because the Assad government would take unfair advantage of the lack of US enthusiasm about resolving the situation. "Shayrat air base in Homs that killed and displaced innocent people is out of order after the American military strikes", said activist Mohammed al-Sibai, who is based in Homs province.

Assad's government had been under mounting worldwide pressure after the chemical attack, which killed 87 people, including 31 children. "Either Russia has been complicit or Russia has simply been incompetent in its ability to deliver on its end of that agreement", he said.

Syria's conflict began in March 2011 with anti-government protests, but has since spiraled into a bitter and complex civil war that has drawn in global players and jihadist fighters.

Russian Federation had agreed to "be the guarantor of the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons stockpiles... the result of their failure has led to the killing of more children and innocents", Tillerson added.

But he said Turkey could not "remain silent" to the Syrian government's chemical weapons use, and insisted Moscow work with Ankara to establish a transitional government in Damascus. But the vote was canceled because of differences among the 15 members.

Vanessa Coleman

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