- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Defense Secretary James N. Mattis said Tuesday the U.S. is in close consultation with Russia in the hopes of preventing a looming chemical weapons attack in Idlib, Syria — an attack that could lead to new American military strikes against Syrian dictator Bashar Assad’s government and surely would add a new spark to an already volatile situation on the ground.

“You have seen our administration act twice on the use of chemical weapons,” Mr. Mattis told reporters during a rare press conference at the Pentagon. “I will assure you that the Department of State has been in active communication, recent active communication, with Russia to enlist them in preventing this. I’ll just leave it at that for right now. But communication is going on.”

The Trump administration twice has ordered airstrikes in Syria after Mr. Assad’s forces launched horrific chemical attacks against rebel forces. Syria had vowed to give up its chemical weapons stockpile as part of a Russia-brokered deal in 2013, but it never fully followed through on that commitment.

Meanwhile, Russian officials are already casting any chemical attack in Idlib as a false flag operation perpetrated by the U.S. and its allies in the hopes of justifying more military strikes on Assad’s forces.

“A smear campaign will begin about the use of chemical weapons by the regime [of Assad] against its people, and that will be used as a pretext for a massive military strike against Syria. This scenario is so obvious that we are doing our utmost to prevent it from being implemented,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told reporters Tuesday, according to the Tass News Agency.

• Ben Wolfgang can be reached at bwolfgang@washingtontimes.com.

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