Trump says 'major decisions' on Syria likely in next 24 to 48 hours

WASHINGTON — Flanked by members of his Cabinet, President Donald Trump on Monday condemned a new suspected chemical attack in Syria on Monday, calling it a 'heinous' act and saying his administration would soon make "major decisions" on how to respond.

"It was an atrocious attack, it was horrible," Trump told reporters at the White House meeting, with hawkish national security adviser John Bolton, there on his first official day on the job, seated directly behind him. "We are studying that situation extremely closely, we are meeting our military and everybody else and we'll be making some major decisions in the next 24 to 48 hours."

"If it's Russia, if it's Syria, if it's Iran, if it's all of them together, we'll figure it out," Trump added. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government has denied that it launched a chemical attack. Moscow, which has helped to prop up the Assad regime, has called the reports "fabricated" and warned that any military strikes would trigger the "gravest consequences."

Asked whether Russian President Vladimir Putin bears responsibility for the alleged chemical attack, Trump responded, "he may."

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"If he does, it's going to be very tough," he added.

Last April, the Trump administration launched strikes on a Syrian-government airfield in retaliation for a brutal chemical attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun. The latest attack comes as Trump deliberates the future of the American military in Syria.

Trump said last week that he wanted U.S. troops and civilians out of Syria by the fall. His desire for a rapid withdrawal faced unanimous opposition from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Pentagon, the State Department and the intelligence community, which argue that keeping the 2,000 U.S. soldiers currently in Syria is key to ensuring the Islamic State does not reconstitute itself.

Trump has called Russia out in the past for its support of the Assad regime, and much of his administration's Iran policy centers around the Islamic Republic's destabilizing activities in Syria.

However, Trump remains open to the idea of speaking directly with Putin, insisting that it's better to find common ground with Russia on Syria, and other economic and security matters.

While the U.S. is still investigating the attack, the State Department said on Saturday that "the [Assad] regime's history of using chemical weapons against its own people in not in dispute."

Trump — who was reportedly moved by the images of dead children on television during the Khan Sheikhoun attack a year ago — signaled his intention to take equally tough action against the latest attack.

"This is about humanity — we're talking about humanity," he said Monday. "It can't be allowed to happen."