Theresa May won the backing of senior ministers on her ‘War Cabinet’ for action against Syrian President Bashar Assad as the Prime Minister and Donald Trump agreed that the use of chemical weapons must not go unchallenged.
On Thursday night, May and the US President agreed a need “to deter the further use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime” during a fresh phone call on the crisis.
The two leaders said they would work closely together on the international response to the suspected chemical weapons attack after a two-hour emergency meeting of senior UK ministers.
Downing Street released a statement following the phone call which said the pair had “agreed that the Assad regime had established a pattern of dangerous behaviour in relation to the use of chemical weapons”.
It went on: “They agreed it was vital that the use of chemical weapons did not go unchallenged, and on the need to deter the further use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime.
“They agreed to keep working closely together on the international response.”
Earlier, Ministers agreed it was “highly likely” Assad was responsible for the attack on Saturday on the rebel-held town of Douma - which reportedly left dozens dead - and said the use of chemical weapons in Syria must not go “unchallenged”.
The White House said Trump was also due to hold further talks with French President Emmanuel Macron.
Earlier Trump had appeared more cautious when backtracking on his explosive rhetoric on Syria to announce he “never said when” a strike on the country would take place.
Later, Trump emerged from a meeting with his national security team without a “final decision” on how to respond.
A day earlier, Trump raised international tensions by warning Russia that an attack in Syria, in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack, was imminent.
But on Thursday, the US President said the attack could “be very soon or not so soon at all”, before asking why America had not received a “thank you” for ridding Syria of Islamic State (Isis).
A Downing Street statement read:
“This afternoon Cabinet met and received an update on the attack against innocent civilians in Douma, Syria, on Saturday.
“The Prime Minister said it was a shocking and barbaric act which killed up to 75 people, including children, in the most appalling and inhumane way.
“Cabinet agreed that the Assad regime has a track record of the use of chemical weapons and it is highly likely that the regime is responsible for Saturday’s attack.
“The Prime Minister said it was a further example of the erosion of international law in relation to the use of chemical weapons, which was deeply concerning to us all.
“Following a discussion in which every member present made a contribution, Cabinet agreed it was vital that the use of chemical weapons did not go unchallenged.
“Cabinet agreed on the need to take action to alleviate humanitarian distress and to deter the further use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime.
“Cabinet agreed the Prime Minister should continue to work with allies in the United States and France to coordinate an international response.”
Against the threat of western forces from the UK, US and France coming into direct confrontation with Syria’s ally in Russia, Trump’s most recent statement contradicts a tweet sent on Tuesday in which he wrote: “get ready Russia”, warning that missiles “will be coming” to Syria.
Emmanuel Macron said France has proof the Syrian government carried out the attack, which aid groups have said killed dozens of people, and will decide whether to strike back when all the necessary information has been gathered.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the attack showed that Assad’s regime had failed to eradicate its chemical arsenal, but she ruled out joining any military action against Syria.
Russia’s military has denied that soil samples or other tests revealed the use of chemical weapons, as experts from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OCPW) are due to arrive on Saturday.
The Kremlin said on Thursday that a crisis communications link - or “deconfliction” telephone line - with the US, was being used by both sides.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said Moscow sought no escalation of the situation, but that it could not support “dishonest accusations” and it had found no evidence of a chemical weapons attack in Douma.
The ministry urged the specialists to be deployed before a possible attack by US forces and its allies.
“Any delay in visiting the location of the alleged incident could lead to another reckless move of Washington, which already fired missiles on Syria’s Shayrat airbase in April 2017 in violation of the UN charter and international law,” the ministry said in a statement.
On Wednesday Russia announced it would be sending ground troops to Douma and today it said control of the town had been transferred to Syrian government forces.