White House blames Obama administration for Assad regime's chemical attack in Syria

WASHINGTON, April 4 (Reuters) - The White House on Tuesday blamed a deadly chemical weapons attack in Syria's Idlib province on the government of President Bashar al-Assad and said the incident was "reprehensible and cannot be ignored by the civilized world."

"These heinous actions by the Bashar al-Assad regime are a consequence of the last administration's weakness and irresolution," White House spokesman Sean Spicer told a briefing. "President Obama said in 2012 that he would establish a 'red line' against the use of chemical weapons and then did nothing."

Images of the attack in Syria

Spicer declined to say what the U.S. administration would do about the attack but added President Donald Trump had spoken on Tuesday with his national security team about the issue.

A suspected Syrian government chemical attack killed scores of people, including children, in the northwestern province of Idlib on Tuesday, a monitoring group, medics and rescue workers in the rebel-held area said. The Syrian military denied responsibility and said it would never use chemical weapons.

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The head of the health authority in rebel-held Idlib said more than 50 people had been killed and 300 wounded. The Union of Medical Care Organizations, a coalition of international aid agencies that funds hospitals in Syria, said at least 100 people had died.

Spicer reiterated the view expressed by Trump's top aides in recent days that the U.S. is not now focused on making Assad leave power and the priority instead is on defeating Islamic State militants.

That was a departure from the Obama administration's public stance on Assad's fate, and drew criticism for playing down a long-standing U.S. goal to help end the six-year-long Syrian civil war.

Spicer said statements last week by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley "speak to the political realities of the situation in Syria" and that there is no longer a fundamental option of "regime change."

President Barack Obama set a "red line" in 2012 warning of military action if Assad's forces used chemical weapons in the civil war. But in 2013 he backed away from carrying out threatened air strikes once a deadly chemical weapons attack was confirmed. That raised concerns among U.S. allies in the Middle East about Obama's commitment to using force in the region.

Asked if the Trump administration would draw another red line, Spicer said, "I'm not ready to talk about our next step, but we will get there soon."

(Reporting by Steve Holland; Writing by Matt Spetalnick and David Alexander; Editing by Tim Ahmann and Chris Reese)