Bolton: U.S. will act 'strongly' if Syria uses chemical weapons again

By Sommer Brokaw   |   Aug. 22, 2018 at 10:31 AM
National security adviser John Bolton speaks to reporters in Jerusalem, Israel, Wednesday. Bolton said the United States will exert maximum pressure on Iran beyond economic sanctions -- and drew a warning from Tehran saying it will hit U.S. and Israeli targets if attacked. Pool Photo by Abir Sulton/UPI

Aug. 22 (UPI) -- U.S. national security adviser John Bolton warned Wednesday the United States will act "very strongly" if Syria uses chemical weapons to retake Idlib province.

Bolton made the remarks at a news conference in Jerusalem.

A wave of air attacks in recent weeks that hit the Idlib region, a refuge for displaced Syrian civilians and rebels, could be a prelude to a full-scale government offensive.

"We now see plans for the Syrian regime to resume offensive military activities in Idlib province," Bolton said. "We are obviously concerned about the possibility that Assad may use chemical weapons again.

"Just so there's no confusion here, if the Syrian regime uses chemical weapons we will respond very strongly and they really ought to think about this a long time."

Bolton's comments came months after United Nations High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Izumi Nakamitsu urged a "meaningful response" to suspected chemical weapons in Syria. At the time, nine people had been treated for breathing problems after a bomb filled with toxic gas fell on Idlib.

Tuesday marked the five-year anniversary of a chemical weapons attack on Ghouta that drew global condemnation and prompted U.N. Security Council members in the United States, Britain and France to vow to act if Assad's forces use chemical weaponry again.

"Our position on the Assad regime's use of chemical weapons is unchanged," a joint statement the council members said. "As we have demonstrated, we will respond appropriately to any further use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime, which has had such devastating humanitarian consequences for the Syrian population."

During his visit to Jerusalem, Bolton also met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Bolton said the discussions focused largely on a nuclear threat from Iran and Tehran's presence in Syria, adding that Israeli strikes on Iranian targets in Syria are "a legitimate act of self-defense."

The Trump administration last year withdrew from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, reimposing economic sanctions that had been lifted. Additional sanctions were added this month. Wednesday, Bolton said the United States will keep up pressure Iran to abandon its nuclear program.

"We're not just going to stop at where the sanctions were in 2015. Our goal, our objective really is essentially we'd like to say no waivers to the sanctions," he said.

Bolton will travel to Geneva next to meet with his Russian counterpart.

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