Syria destroyed its chemical weapons stockpile in 2013 in a deal brokered by Russian Federation and the United States in exchange for the latter's agreement not to attack the Middle Eastern country.
Mattis, addressing a hearing of the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee, declined to discuss USA military planning on Syria. Today, during a brief press appearance with Netherlands Minister of Defense Ank Bijleveld, Mattis refused to blame the Assad government of Syria for the alleged chemical attack.
Syrian opposition media reports last week of an attack by government forces involving chemical weapons prompted the United States and its allies to blame Damascus and begin preparations for a possible military response. "The OPCW (Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) is the organization for the chemical weapons convention - we're trying to get those inspectors in probably within the week". If the regime does allow an investigation, the inspectors will not be able to determine who launched a chemical attack, he said. Mattis cited protection of the 2000 or so US troops in Syria helping to fight ISIS.
Peskov wouldn't say if Moscow could use a Russian-U.S. military hotline to avoid escalation in the event of a U.S. strike, saying only that "the hotline exists and has remained active". "Our strategy is to engage by, with and through allies in all things we do".
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"You saw President Obama try to deal with those chemical weapons when he was in and enlisting the Russians who now it shows were complicit in Syria retaining those weapons, Assad retaining them - and the only reason Assad is still in power is because of the Russians regrettable vetoes in the United Nations and the Russian and Iranian military", Mattis said.
Mattis was referring to global investigating teams from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).
"Our role in Syria is the defeat of ISIS", he said.
Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, chairman of the House committee, noted the military is in a better position budget-wise this year. "Congress and the [Trump] administration have worked together to provide to the military the resources they need to begin to reverse the erosion of our military strength", Thornberry said. "We're still working on this".
Several lawmakers grilled the Pentagon chief on the legal authorities the military has for action in Syria beyond the remit of its current mission, which is to work to destroy the Daesh. "Going forward in the next decade... understanding our fiscal restraints and dealing with them is going to be a critically important part of making sure the military can do what it can do".