PALM BEACH, Fla. — President Donald Trump hinted at possible military action against Syria Thursday as his administration considered how to strike at President Bashar Assad after this week’s chemical weapons attack that killed more than 80 people.
Trump suggested strongly that Assad may have to leave power, and his comments were underscored by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who told reporters “there’s no role for (Assad) to govern the Syrian people.”
The administration has been put to the test this week amid an international outcry over newly horrifying violence in Syria. Over the past seven years, hundreds of thousands of people have been killed in the nation’s civil war, triggering the worst refugee crisis since World War II.
Trump’s tone has grown more grave with the passing days. On Wednesday, he said this week’s attack crossed “a lot of lines” — not just the “red line” of chemical weapons use that President Barack Obama once set as an ultimatum for the Assad government.
“I think what happened in Syria is a disgrace to humanity,” Trump said onboard Air Force One on Thursday, en route to meet China’s President Xi Jinping at a Florida summit. Asked if Assad should remain in power, he said that “he’s there and I guess he’s running things so something should happen.”
Tillerson, who spoke almost simultaneously after greeting Xi in West Palm Beach, said the U.S. is evaluating an appropriate response.
“The process by which Assad would leave is something that will require an international community effort,” Tillerson said, adding that there needs to be a balance between defeating the Islamic State group and stabilizing Syria to prevent the civil war from escalating further.
Tillerson also issued a warning to Russia that its support of the Assad government is something that it should “consider carefully.”