White House calls Russian denials on Syrian gas attack a 'coverup'

U.S. secretary of state Rex Tillerson denied in an interview on CBS's Face The Nation that the strikes signalled an overhaul of American policy, saying its priority remained to defeat Islamic State militants in the Middle East.

The Russian Defense Ministry said on Wednesday that the airstrike near Khan Shaykhun by the Syrian air force hit a terrorist warehouse that stored chemical weapons slated for delivery to Iraq, and called on the UN Security Council to launch a proper investigation into the incident.

"Why Russia has not been able to achieve that is unclear to me", Tillerson said.

His remarks on Sunday TV talk shows came after President Donald Trump's missile strike Thursday on a Syrian air base.

Russian Federation has defended the Syrian government, a staunch ally, against US allegations it was behind the nerve gas attack in Syria's Idlib province last week which killed scores, saying there is no evidence to underpin such an allegation.

"It's very hard to understand how a political solution could result from the continuation from the Assad regime", McMaster said on "Fox News Sunday".

The US president's press spokesman Sean Spicer said on Monday that further action would be considered in certain circumstances.

"It is the right moment to talk about this, how the worldwide community, with Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Europe, with the US, can drive forward a peace process for Syria and avoid further military escalation of the conflict".

Haley also addressed reports that there were mixed diplomatic signals sent about the US position toward Assad's role in Syria.

Trump's United Nations ambassador, Nikki Haley, said the United States had "multiple priorities" in Syria and that stability there was impossible with Assad as president.

The use of force has been accompanied by escalating rhetoric from the Trump administration that is critical of Russian Federation.

"This is part of the problem in Syria".

"By continuing to support a man who gasses his own people, he is damaging Russian Federation further in the eyes of the world".

Tillerson's trip comes after an American official said the USA has drawn a preliminary conclusion that Russian Federation knew in advance of the chemical attack - an allegation that heightens already acute tensions between Washington and Moscow.

"As long as Assad is there, you're going to have a radical jihadist Sunni element, even if you destroy ISIS it'll be al-Nusra and that new coalition. They're saying by covering for Assad that they knew that it was there, or they were incompetent by having chemical weapons there in the first place". But in interviews broadcast Sunday, Tillerson said he sees no reason for retaliation from Moscow because Russian Federation wasn't targeted.

The White House wants Russia, Syria's main patron, to "stop the disinformation campaign" and work to prevent Syrian forces from launching additional chemical attacks, a second White House official said, adding that the Kremlin has launched "a very clear campaign to obscure the nature of the attacks". He did not specify the action.

"Given that the situation in Syria remains Russia's bargaining chip in its talks with the United States, the Trump administration is apparently trying to deprive Russian Federation of it", Svyatrenkov said.

In his first televised interview, H.R. McMaster pointed to dual U.S. goals of defeating the Islamic State group and removing Assad.

Tillerson's de facto ultimatum was issued after the secretary of state participated in a side meeting at the G-7 that involved representatives from a number of countries, including multiple Middle Eastern nations such as Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia.

"It is clear to us the reign of the Assad family is coming to an end", he told reporters at a meeting of Group of Seven foreign ministers shortly before leaving for Moscow.

  • Salvatore Jensen