US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on Wednesday that the Syrian government was responsible for delays in inspectors reaching sites of a suspected chemical weapons attack, a strategy they had used in the past.
“We are very much aware of the delay that the regime imposed on that delegation but we are also very much aware of how they have operated in the past and seal what they have done using chemical weapons,” Mattis said before the start of a meeting with his counterpart from Qatar.
“In other words, using the pause after a strike like that to try to clean up the evidence before the investigation team gets in. So it’s unfortunate they were delayed,” Mattis added.
Mattis had pushed back against a report on Wednesday saying he had unsuccessfully urged President Donald Trump to seek congressional approval ahead of last week’s air strikes in Syria.
Citing anonymous military and administration officials, the New York Times said Mattis had recommended Trump get a green light from lawmakers before launching Friday’s cruise missile barrage against three targets the Pentagon said were tied to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons program.
“I have no idea where that story came from,” Mattis told reporters.
“I found nothing in it that I could recall from my own last week's activities.”
Chemical weapons inspectors are waiting to go into Douma, near Damascus, to probe allegations of a chemical gas attack on April 7 that prompted last week’s US-led response.