Russia doubles down on criticism of US for alleging Syria is planning a new chemical attack

Key Points
  • Russia is 'seriously concerned' about U.S. claiming Syria is preparing a chemical attack, a Russian foreign ministry official said.
  • He also called out Washington's warnings of a "heavy price" if an attack occurs.
  • Earlier criticism by Kremlin had labeled U.S. charges and threats as "unacceptable."
  • Late Monday, the White House said it had "identified potential preparations for another chemical weapons attack."
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (R) talks to the media next to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov before their meeting at the State Department in Washington, U.S., May 10, 2017.
Yuri Gripas | Reuters

Russia doubled down on its rhetoric against the U.S. for the allegations that its ally Syrian President Bashar Assad was planning a new chemical weapons attack.

In the latest salvo, a Russian Foreign Ministry official on Wednesday slammed the U.S. for not accepting assurances from the Syrian government that there are no preparations for a chemical attack.

When the White House warnings were issued Monday and threats made about a response, a Kremlin spokesman the next day termed it "unacceptable."

The new U.S. criticism was published on the Facebook page of the Russian Foreign Ministry's spokesperson Maria Zakharova but also picked up Wednesday by Tass and other state media.

"We know from the past that the (George W.) Bush regime has already used the falsification of facts on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq against its own people to carry out a military aggression against that country," said Zakharova. "We are seriously concerned over this."

On Monday, a warning from the White House said that the U.S. had "identified potential preparations for another chemical weapons attack by the Assad regime that would likely result in the mass murder of civilians, including innocent children." Furthermore, the statement warned that if "Assad conducts another mass murder attack using chemical weapons, he and his military will pay a heavy price."

Tass said, "Syria's leadership has denied these accusations."

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson spoke to his Russian counterpart on Monday, the State Department confirmed Tuesday. "The secretary has made his concerns clear in the past and continues to do so with regard to Russia," a State Department spokesperson told reporters.

The White House warning Monday followed a chemical weapons attack on April 4 in Khan Sheikhoun, a rebel-held town in northern Syria, that claimed at least 70 lives, including children. The U.S. blamed that chemical attack on the Assad regime, and President Donald Trump responded by launching Tomahawk missiles against the Shayrat air base operated by the Syrian government.

Syria continues to deny responsibility.

In late May, Russian President Vladimir Putin told the French paper Le Figaro in an interview that "there is no proof" that Assad used chemical weapons and said when Russia proposed sending inspectors to the site of the alleged attack they were refused entry.

Meantime, there are indications that the Syrians may have gotten the message on chemical weapons.

"It appears they took the warnings seriously," Defense Secretary James Mattis told reporters traveling with him to a NATO event, according to a report Wednesday in the Stars and Stripes newspaper. The event is a ministerial meeting in Brussels to go over ally troop deployments in Afghanistan and other issues.

According to the paper, Mattis wouldn't divulge what the U.S. saw that made them concerned about another chemical attack. He also wouldn't confirm that it involved anything to do with the Shayrat base, which the U.S. linked to the April chemical attack.