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Background Press Briefing by Senior Administration Officials on Syria

April 14, 2018

Via Teleconference

1:00 P.M. EDT

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you. For your attribution today for this background briefing on the Syrian strike, your briefers today are [senior administration officials]. Again, this on background, so all attribution from this backgrounder will be to a senior administration official, and this is embargoed until the end of this discussion, which will last approximately 45 minutes.

So I'll turn this over to our first briefer.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you very much, and thank you all for joining us this afternoon. I just have four quick toplines from the President's remarks and from the assessment of the action to cover with you.

The first one being that the whole point being that Assad's monstrous chemical weapons use is an intolerable threat to the United States and our interests. This action was about the clear goal of reestablishing deterrence that would stop Assad from using chemical weapons. The President had consensus with key allies, and he took decisive action.

Second -- and I think we've been very clear about this -- is that Russia has failed. Putin has had four years to make good on his commitment to rid Syria of chemical weapons use. The President was not going to just wait for Russia to mount yet another disinformation campaign that would attempt to deflect attention from the fact that Russia is the one who is enabling Syria to continue on with this behavior.

In addition, the President very clearly called out Iran -- a country which has nothing positive to offer to the region. They are pouring resources that they don't have into propping up Assad. Iran really needs to focus, we think, on their collapsing currency, rather than squandering their people's assets abroad.

And then finally, this is the President's course that he has been charting since he came into office last year. He said last night that you know a country by the company it keeps. And the days of appeasement and accommodation of rogue regimes are over. The United States is standing staunchly with the United Kingdom and France, some of our oldest allies; and with our regional partners; and calling out, in word and deed, the bad actors who are trying to destabilize the region.

So thank you very much, and I am happy to kick it over now to my colleague.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks very much. Let me just do a little bit of a contextual walk on this. For seven years, war and suffering have reigned in Syria. Over and over again, we have watched the Assad regime committing war crimes, using chemical weapons against its own population of innocent civilians.

Now, chemical weapons are banned internationally; their use is a war crime. And we have worked, along with our allies, assiduously through the U.N. Security Council and through the specialized agencies of the international community throughout this period to attempt not just to investigate these crimes, but also to produce action through the Council, through the international community, with the weight of the international community that could stop further such actions.

Unfortunately, the Security Council has been obstructed by Russia throughout this process. Russia was the guarantor in 2013 of the regime's compliance with the Geneva agreement that was, in theory, to rid Syria of chemical weapons. Assad's flagrant continued use of CW calls that entire structure into question.

What it does not raise a question about, though, is Russia's complicity in defending, protecting the Syrian regime from the consequences of its actions. The siege of Eastern Ghouta, even before the use of chemical weapons, was brutal in the extreme. But the use of chemical weapons added to that brutality another dimension which could not go, in the view of the United States and its allies, without a response. And that response is, as we have said repeatedly and the President noted yesterday evening, focused on the CW usage both to address what happened in Douma, and to attempt to deter and further such actions.

And the President made clear, if this step does not succeed, we will be prepared to act again. We don't want to be construed as taking steps beyond the context of CW use. That is a grievous enough crime, a heinous enough situation to justify on its own what we are doing.

But the President also noted, in Syria, we have another objective, which is the defeat of the remaining presence of ISIS. And this is something which, from a diplomatic standpoint, we continue to build and to strengthen our international coalition of support, including with key regional parties, to see that that goal, too, can be effected so that Syria does not pose, through CW use, a threat to its own citizens; and, through the presence of ISIS, the geographic space that is Syria does not threaten the region, Europe, and the world.

Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I just want to walk briefly through what we understand about the attacks on April 7th. We have a large volume of clear and compelling information, both of chemical weapons use and of Assad's culpability in this attack. The information we have points to the use of both chlorine and sarin, both of which are chemical weapons, as used in this attack and beyond.

First of all, on April 7th, what we saw very early on is a very large volume of social media users, nongovernmental organizations, and other open-source outlets that began to report on a chemical weapons bombardment in Douma. Early videos and images show the remnants of at least two chlorine barrel bombs from the attacks with features consistent with chlorine barrel bombs from past attacks.

Some of these chlorine barrel bombs from the past have had chlorine symbols on them and then have been identified by eyewitnesses and other as releasing gases. And so we can look at the chlorine barrel bombs from this time and look at the ones from previous, and they look the same.

In addition, a large volume of high-resolution and reliable photographs and video from Douma clearly documents victims suffering from asphyxiation and foaming at the mouth, miosis or pinpoint pupils -- all symptoms without any visible signs of external wounds. The World Health Organization also issued a statement about its concern over the suspected chemical attack. It noted that these victims also showed symptoms consistent with exposure to toxic chemicals.

Relating to the attack itself, multiple eyewitnesses noted the presence of multiple government helicopters that were over Douma on April 7th. They specifically reported a Mi-8 helicopter that was known to have taken off from a nearby airfield; it's a regime airfield called Dumayr airfield. That helicopter was circling the town of Douma over the attack.

Numerous eyewitnesses also corroborate the story that barrel bombs were dropped from those helicopters as well. This is a tactic that has been used throughout the war to target civilians indiscriminately with chemical weapons. Photos of those barrel bombs dropped in Douma, again, closely resemble those from previous attacks. The barrel bombs that were used, we have reliable information that indicates that Syrian military officials were coordinating what appears to be that use of chlorine on April 7th.

And following those barrel bomb attacks, doctors and aid organizations on the ground reported strong smells of chlorine, and described symptoms consistent with exposure to sarin. And we know, looking at the (inaudible) ourselves, that the Russians and the Syrians had attempted to come up with a variety of different explanations for this attack.

I would note several things that we've seen in past attacks as well, which is that, first of all, their stories aren't consistent. They've come up with multiple different explanations, none of which are consistent with the available evidence.

So for example, within hours of the first allegations, Syria's state-run news agency (inaudible) report that the smear campaign by Jaysh al-Islam, the last remaining opposition group in East Ghouta. Not only do we not have any information that suggests that this group has ever used chemical weapons or obtained chlorine or sarin, but we have no evidence pointing them to this specific attack.

Furthermore, it's unlikely that any opposition group would actually have the capability to fabricate the large volume of information that we have and is available publicly that reports the regime's chemical weapons use. This kind of fabrication would require highly organized and compartmented campaigns to deceive multiple media outlets while evading our detection. It just isn't feasible.

The Syrian regime and Russia have also claimed that a terrorist group conducted the attack or that the attacks were staged. As I noted, that is not consistent with the existing body of credible information that I laid out.

Further, the only folks with military aircraft, with helicopters in Syria are the Assad regime. They're the only ones with an aircraft. No opposition forces, no non-state actors conducted air operations throughout the consulate. This further implicates the regime.

And I would say, finally, unlike the terrorist groups, we have a long history of chemical weapons use in Syria. Assad has established himself as a user of chemical weapons. The international community, through the Joint Investigative Mechanism by the U.N. and OPCW, has again made clear, by an independent group, that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons on multiple instances.

I'll leave it there.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you. I just want to just highlight quickly our strategic objectives for this. First and foremost was to respond to the chemical weapons attack. Second, to ensure that we hold Assad and his supporters accountable for this violation. And then ultimately, to reestablish deterrence on chemical weapons use, both in Syria but also elsewhere.

And if I could just a point to my colleague's piece about in Syria, to defeat ISIS -- it's evident that the Assad regime lacks legitimacy. As we would think of a legitimate government -- it's fundamental purposes are to secure and serve their people. But the regime itself, its repressive actions, the intense brutality that we saw in East Ghouta, the targeting of hospitals, and ultimately the chemical weapons use -- those are the types of activities that were some of the core grievances that gave rise to the impetus of ISIS and the continued radicalization in Syria that really continues to drive the cycle of violence in this war.

And thank you very much.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I just have a couple of comments to add. For those who are wondering how last night's action differs from the action that was taken in response to Khan Shaykhun a year ago when the United States did airstrikes against Shayrat airfield -- the airfield from which the sarin attack against Khan Shaykhun was delivered -- I think it differs in three ways.

First, last night's action was more robust in terms of military action. The 2017 attacks against Shayrat airfield was aimed against the delivery means of the chemical weapons attacks. Last night's attacks were aimed more at the direct core of the Syrian regime's chemical weapons programs -- its research capabilities and a lot of its processing and storage facilities.

And secondly, last night's attacks were an allied response. So U.S., UK, France acting together, in contrast to the United States by itself a year ago.

And third, I would say that last night's attacks, as the President and the other allied leaders made clear, are meant to be part of the sustained effort at reestablishing a deterrent against the Syrian regime's use of chemical weapons.

As the President made clear in his comments last night, that he is prepared to do more if that's what's required in order to reestablish that deterrent, and each of the allied leaders indicated the same.

Thank you.

Q: Hi. This is Andrea Mitchell, with NBC News. Could you address what many have described as a disconnect between the President's suggestion in his speech last night that there was going to be a sustained military action and what the Defense Secretary said is (inaudible) shot? And also the President's tweet today about "Mission Accomplished" -- precisely, why did he use that phrase which certainly has a lot of connotations from the past, from 2006? Thank you very much.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So very clearly, the operation was successful. The operation was militarily successful. There were 105 weapons that were fired at three different target sites. All of those weapons, to our estimation, hit the target. Zero were intercepted by Syrian air defenses. In fact, the Syrian air defense system, which a lot of people outside the U.S. government had made into sort of a giant system -- out of more than 40 surface-to-air missiles that we know were launched by the Syrian air defense system, almost all of them were launched after our allied missiles had already (inaudible) target.

So it was clear, this allied operation was able to penetrate Syrian air space without any effective opposition from Syrian air defense systems at all. So it clearly was militarily successful.

But as the President made clear in his remarks that this has to be part of a sustained campaign using a variety of means to ensure that we re-impose the deterrent against the Syrian regime's chemical weapons use. So the President made clear, as the other allied leaders made clear, that they're willing to do more, even militarily, if that's what it requires. They're also willing to take diplomatic actions and economic actions -- all actions using all the means at our disposal in a sustained campaign.

Thank you.

Q: I have just one question. Have you got any official reactions from China, India, Germany, Canada?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The German government responded very promptly, essentially underscoring exactly the same comments we have made. The defiance by the Assad regime, the failure by Russia to support efforts to the U.N. Security Council and by the OPCW to both investigate but also to take effective action to prevent these kinds of attacks.

With respect to the other governments you note, I have not yet seen comments.

Q: Thank you. Brian Karem, Sentinel Newspapers. This morning, I think it was NPR reported that there were some Syrian (inaudible) who said they had high hopes for this strike, but believe that it was ineffective. Can you speak specifically to what we struck, how they were affected, casualties, anything specifically?

And then the second question is more of a political one. The President -- I guess those who stand against the President are saying that he emboldened Syria's behavior by saying that we were going to get out of Syria recently. Could you speak to both of those issues please? Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So in terms of what did we hit and why do we think it's effective and what does it mean, we hit three chemical weapons-related targets. They were part of Syria's program to produce, research, and store chemical weapons, including some of the weapons that were used in this particular attack.

We do think we took out some materiel that was in that facility that could have been used to further produce and research chemical weapons like sarin. And we do think, from the battle damage assessments, as the DOD noted this morning, that that mission was very successful. We've seen the facilities, and any equipment that was at those facilities has been eliminated, which was part of the one of the main goals and objectives of the strike -- was degrade Syria's chemical weapons program.

And so we think we have successfully done that. It is clear from those photographs we've seen so far that we've been successful in that. To be clear, we do assess, at the same time, that Assad still has remaining aspects of his chemical weapons capabilities. It has chemicals -- sarin and chlorine -- and it has chemical-capable munitions that it could use to conduct further attacks.

And so this is what my colleague was talking about when we talk about the need for a sustained campaign and why the President and the allies are committed to it. We need to eliminate the programs; they need to come into compliance with the OPCW; we need to resolve international concerns about the program. If not, the President has made clear that he will act again.

And so we do think it was successful. We do think that we have done a great deal to actually reestablish the deterrent and prove what the President said: that we are willing to act. And what you will find follows this. This is the same campaign to show that there will be further costs to continuing to use chemical weapons.

And so, moving forward, (inaudible) regime should know that additional chemical weapons use will not be tolerated by the United States or the international community. And so we do call upon Syria to come into compliance with its Chemical Weapons Convention obligations to destroy its remaining chemical weapons stockpile, dismantle its chemical weapons program entirely, and cooperate fully with the OPCW before our collective mission here is done.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So concerning your second question, the Syrian regime conducted its chemical weapons attack in Douma, near Damascus, on April 7th not because of remarks by the President about the next steps of the Defeat ISIS campaign in Eastern Syria; the Syrian regime conducted its chemical weapons attack in Douma because it has been conducting chemical weapons attacks in Douma as part of its operations against the Syrian opposition and against innocent civilians for several years now.

We have seen a consistent pattern of the Syrian regime resorting to the use of chemical weapons in order to compensate, first and foremost, for its lack of military manpower. People need to understand the Syrian regime uses chemical weapons to compensate for some aspects of its military weakness. The Syrian regime has a dwindling pool of military manpower that it can draw upon in order to try to fill its army. And in order to preserve its military manpower, it resorts to using firepower.

Instead of assaulting with infantry, for example, where they know they will take heavy losses, when they get to difficult resistance, they back away from it and use artillery in order to attack the enemy and also to terrorize the civilian populations that are in that opposition-held territory. And they also use chemical weapons for the same purpose in order to compensate for a lack military manpower and in order to terrorize opposition-held territory in the populations that live there. And they also use aerial bombardment, including munitions like barrel bombs. And of course, sometimes they deliver the chemical weapons using barrel bombs.

So their decision to use this in the battle for Douma, which was the last strong pocket of opposition research on the edge of their capital, Damascus -- they did that for tactical and operational reasons of their own because that's their weapons of choice to try to solve their military manpower problem. And it didn't have anything to do with remarks that the President made about the Defeat ISIS campaign.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Just a quick comment: My colleague meant "opposition resistance," not "opposition research."

Q: This is Robin Wright from the New Yorker. I have two questions. First of all, the (inaudible) emphasized last night that they hoped the strike might generate more steam behind the diplomatic process. Can you talk about what you might be doing now, given the fact that both the process conducted by the U.N. in Geneva and with (inaudible) talks have stalemated?

And secondly, as Nikki Haley has pointed out, the Syrians have used chemical weapons 50 times. There have been repeated uses since the strike last year in Khan Shaykhun. What was it about Douma that led the President to decide that this was the moment to act, rather than one of the events over the past year?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Robin, I'll respond to your first question. We strongly support the U.N.-led process authorized by Security Council Resolution 2254 in Geneva to move torward a political resolution with two focuses. One: a constitutional reform process. The second: moving towards free and fair elections.

The problem is that process has been blocked completely since early February, both by the Syrian regime, which has refused to participate in the Geneva discussions, but aided and abetted by the Russians, who have been unwilling to apply the necessary persuasion, pressures, engagement with the regime to bring them to Geneva.

And I have to note, this latter refusal by Russia to move the regime to positive engagement in Geneva is quite striking because in early February, at a Russian-held conference in Sochi, the outcome of that conference communiqué read by Foreign Minister Lavrov himself specifically endorsed resolution 2254, Geneva, the U.N. (inaudible), and the need for negotiations on the constitution in Geneva.

So the regime has repudiated Russia's own declaration at Russia's own conference. We continue to work strongly with the U.N.; with the U.N. Special Representative for Syria, Staffan de Mistura. We also work with Moscow on moving forward this political process. But we have to be very clear here: All of the efforts by the U.N. will not be sufficient if both Damascus and Moscow explicitly reject that route.

Q: And my other question?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah. And so in response to that one, you're right. The Syrian regime has been using chemical weapons since April 4th of last year. We assessed they used chlorine on January 22nd. We assessed they used chlorine again, probably as many as three times between April 29th and the 6th of May. We assessed they used sarin on November 18th. And then we have this most recent attack on April 7th, where they used sarin and chlorine. And there are probably more uses along the way.

What we learned after April 4th of last year is that the Assad regime was willing to change its tactics to try to evade international pressure to be able to continue to use those chemical weapons for the reasons my colleague laid out earlier.

We, in that timeframe, used multiple diplomatic, economic, and political avenues to try to get the regime and to convince the regime, to convince Assad that chemical weapons use was not in his interest. We worked through the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in the Hague, to try to get an EC decision -- an Executive Council decision -- to put pressure on the Assad regime to give up its chemical weapons programs, to declare the rest of it, to allow inspections, to ensure that we knew it was inspected -- and Russia blocked us there.

We tried, on multiple occasions to restore the Joint Investigative Mechanism at the U.N. Security Council. Russia vetoed that resolution six times. We came up with multiple resolutions. We took on language that was palatable from the Russian resolution. We tried to work with Russia. Russia continued to push forward multiple resolutions of its own, none of which moved anywhere closer to where the allies and the United States were in terms of ensuring that the Syrian regime would no longer use chemical weapons. We put forward hundreds of sanctions against individuals that were involved or related to Syria's chemical weapons program and use.

And so, as we walk through all of those mechanisms, building towards the pressure we thought we needed to hold the Assad regime accountable, this attack happened. And so it was clear that Russia and Syria are going to stymie every effort we have in the international community.

This attack was a little bit different than the prior ones in the way that we have incontrovertible evidence from the photos. Right? It was clear to the international community; the eyewitnesses reports across the board make it clear that the Assad regime used chemical weapons in this instance. And we could hold back no more. It was time to not let Russia and Syria's opposition (inaudible) stymie all of our efforts.

The President, the allies were unwilling to let this attack go unanswered, and we had exhausted every avenue in the international community. And so the decision was made to take military action here to ensure that we could restore that deterrent.

And, as my colleague noted, it was planned to be a sustained effort. We are continuing to work closely with those allies on the steps that come next. We will continue to work through the international community to build that pressure, to get Syria to come into compliance with the CWC obligations. And if not, the President has made clear his intentions and his willingness to act again.

Q: Hi, there. It's Jill Colvin from the Associated Press. Thank you for doing this call. I've got two avenues I was hoping to address. Firstly, can you walk us through the President's decision-making process here? How many options did he weigh? When did he give the final sign-off? What was his mood over the last couple of days? And then a second topic: What did Jon Huntsman mean when he said that he'd warned the Russians in an attempt to avoid Russian or civilian casualties? Because that seems to (inaudible) what the Pentagon had said last night. Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Concerning the decision-making process, we're not going to get into the details of that, other than to say that we had a full week of consultations -- the President and his national security team, and also the President with the allies.

But in terms of the specifics of when decisions were made and so on, we can't get into those kinds of details.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: On Ambassador Huntsman's comments, we were engaged with appropriate authorities in Moscow to ensure that, in the conduct of this operation, we took all necessary steps and advised Russia to do the same to avoid casualties that were extraneous to the target Syrian CW facilities that we were hitting.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I would say that we did everything in our powers to minimize casualties in this particular attack. We would defer to, I think, DOD and others on their specific consultations along the way. But I would say that that's absolutely true; we wanted to make sure that, as we attacked these facilities that we minimized casualties. We did that by the precise target selected, by the time of the attack, and by the precision of the weapons that were used.

Q: Hello. Thank you for doing this call. I wanted to ask if the administration had a response to what the Russian ambassador said at the U.N. Security Council today regarding that they're condemning the U.S. and joint action from the UK and everyone else (inaudible) the allies regarding these airstrikes. And also if you could tell us, is there plans coming next? What are the next steps following these airstrikes? Thank you very much.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There's a real quick answer to your first question. The Security Council has just rejected the Russian resolution condemning -- and I believe the Council expressed quite clearly its rejection as well of the extraordinarily disingenuous remarks by the Russian ambassador.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: In terms of next steps, I think we will continue to work with our allies and allies beyond we even took the strike with last night to determine the best set of economic, political, and diplomatic measures to ensure that not just the Syrian regime, but all countries around the world -- and that includes Russia, which used chemical weapons in the UK and Salisbury not long ago, and North Korea, which used chemical weapons in Malaysia in February -- but to make sure that all actors understand that chemical weapons use will not be tolerated by the international community, and that, at the same time, we will continue to keep viable military options on the table if Assad and others do not understand that such chemical weapons use will not be tolerated (inaudible.)

Q: Thank you. This is Katrina Manson from the Financial Times. Can you talk a little bit about why you decided not to go after any Iran-associated targets and how much discussion there was over that option? And ultimately, how helpful the large presence of U.S. troops in Northeast Syria is, at the moment, deterring Iranian interest in Syria and blocking what's often referred to as a land bridge?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So, Katrina, this operation was focused on Syria's chemical weapons program. That was the intent. So it wasn't meant to be a military action against any other objective than that. And it was not connected to the ongoing campaign against ISIS in Eastern Syria, which continues apace.

Q: Hi, this is Jeff Mason with Reuters. Two questions. One, broadly: Can you explain how the U.S. intends to continue speaking to or working with Russia going forward after both the missile attacks and their response to them?

And secondly, just a follow-up on one of the statements that was made earlier: Can you clarify or confirm, does the U.S. intelligence suggest that both sarin and chlorine were used in this most recent chemical attack? Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah. On the issue of engagement with Russia, Russia has a significant role to play, both for good and not for good in the world, and not just in the Middle East. As the President has said on many occasions, we want to have an engagement with Russia that leads to greater peace, stability, and security in the world, including in the Middle East, including in Syria. But for that kind of engagement to be successful, it has to be two-sided. It cannot simply be a U.S. desire, Russia has to respond by actions as well.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So just to add one point on what I think my colleague said, I would say too on the WMD -- weapons of mass destruction -- issue in particular, we believe that we actually have more in common with Russia than at odds with Russia. And we find it extremely disconcerting they are willing to take narrow political interests over our prior cooperation to try to reduce the use and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

We think it is not in their interest that Syria continue to use chemical weapons. It is not in their interest for terrorists to get WMDs, which is where we have tried to cooperate with them in the past as well. It's not in their interests for North Korea to threaten the international community.

And so we do hope that we will be able to restart some weapons of mass destruction and counterproliferation cooperation with Russia where our interests align. And so we're very sad that that has not led to further cooperation.

In response to your second question about the use of sarin and chlorine -- yes, we assessed that both sarin and chlorine were used in this attack. And while the available information is much greater on the chlorine use, we do have significant information that also points to sarin use. We've got symptoms described in reporting from media, NGOs, and other open sources. They do point to miosis, their constricted pupils; convulsions; and disruptions to central nervous systems. Their symptoms don't come from chlorine; they come from nerve agents.

These symptoms, in addition to the dozens of deaths and hundreds of injuries reported also suggest sarin. It's a much more efficient weapon, unfortunately, the way that the regime has been using it, and it resulted in higher deaths; it resulted in terrible pictures; and the deaths, according to the photos, of multiple children and women.

Q: Hi. It's Peter Baker from the New York Times. So I wondered about whether Syria had enough time to adjust before the strike, given the President said on Monday he would make a decision by the end of the day, or with 24 to 48 hours. He didn't do that. They had until Friday. Do we have any evidence that they moved stockpiles, moved equipment that might have otherwise been targeted? And was there consideration given to targets beyond these three and going for longer than a night but rejected? And if so, why?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sorry, what was your second question, Peter?

Q: Sorry. Was there consideration given to targets beyond these three and going for longer than one night but rejected? And if so, why was that rejected?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So in terms of were they able to move things, we believe that there were things in these buildings that were not able to be moved. And the facilities themselves were research centers, production centers, and had -- we can't be specific about what we believe were in those buildings, but we do think they had (inaudible) there related to chemical weapons programs.

We, at the same time, as you might guess, are monitoring facilities to make sure that we understand what has happened to their chemical weapons program. And we believe that strikes were successful in taking out what we intended to take out in those locations.

In terms of why not more, we won't tell -- we're not willing to go into what else was considered because that's the President's deliberative process. But I will tell you we selected the targets very carefully based on their relationship to the chemical weapons program, what we believed was at that program, while balancing to make sure that it was clear that this was a strike targeted precisely against the chemical weapons program and that we could minimize casualties.

Q: Hi. Thanks for doing the call. The French Defense Minister said that Russia was warned before the strikes came. Of course, the (inaudible) administration is saying that we used a deconfliction line. I just want to get clarity on that. Did we warn Russia and let them know which targets we were going to hit beforehand? Or was it just to the deconfliction line about airspace?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: As General McKenzie stated this morning, all that was done was to use the existing deconfliction channel. And, no, the Russians were not warned about targets.

Q: Okay. So just to be clear then, the French Minister either misspoke or was wrong about that? Just because, again, he said Russia was warned ahead of the strike.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I can't speak for the French Defense Minister. What I would say is that we had exchanges with the Russians for some time now about the need for the Assad regime to cease its use of chemical weapons and for both the Assad regime and the Russians to live up to what they guaranteed would happen in 2013 with the elimination of Assad's chemical weapons program.

Q: Thanks. It's Mike Bender at the Wall Street Journal. Can you just talk a little bit about Trump's role in coalition building here -- how often he talked to Macron or May? And what went into those discussions and doing this in concert with France and England?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sure. I can offer a few points and then I'll ask my colleague to make some comments. But the President and his whole national security team, since the beginning of the administration, have been consulting very closely with allied and partner counterparts, including very intensely with France and Great Britain.

And so this has been part of a continuing conversation. I would say it's rare for more than a few days to go by and the President doesn't have a consultation with President Macron or with the British counterparts. And so this has been something that's been building for a while -- the shared goal of putting an end to the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

And I'd also say that, over time, among President Trump, President Macron, and Prime Minister May in particular, they've developed a very close strategic coordination relationship, and also one in which there's an increasing level of trust over time.

But so have their teams, the national security teams below them. One thing that has been quietly happening is a very close relationship amongst the different national security teams so that everyone knows everyone else, everyone understand everyone else's intent and our shared intent and the places in which we can pursue opportunities to accomplish shared goals and coordinate on a near continual basis.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Just to follow up, I mean, I think it's important to emphasize, this was three permanent members of the United Nations Security Council banding together to take a very resolute action in a pretty much seamless joint exercise. And that, in a week, the President -- it's a real tribute to his ability to form this coalition, have the firm support of both France and Great Britain for this action.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'd like to make one further comment that's not directly related to the question, but rather to some of the responses that we've seen in social media in particular for some time now. And there is a narrative of -- a Syrian regime and Russia-fueled counter narrative -- out there where people tend to say, for example, "Well, the supposition that the Assad regime is militarily winning so it wouldn't have any motivation to use chemical weapons." We see people who should know better actually making that argument.

In reality, first of all, the Assad regime is not winning strategically. If you look at the situation in Syria, they control about half of Syria's populated territory, about half of its population, and less than half of its pre-war GDP. They may be winning militarily in some places, operationally, but they're winning in those places operationally in part because they use chemical weapons.

It's not because they're winning they wouldn't have a motivation to use chemical weapons, it's that they're using chemical weapons as part of their way to win. It's very clear we have a large body of intelligence and other information, and I would direct those who are curious about the factual record to look at the declassified assessment that the White House distributed last night and has now posted on the DOD website, which has to do with the United States government's assessment about the Assad regime's use of chemical weapons. It's a very detailed report on what we know and what we can share publicly about the patterns -- unmistakable pattern of the Syrian regime's chemical weapons use and the overwhelming evidence of the Syrian regime's culpability.

So the counternarratives that are being spun by Russia and the Assad regime and its friends are simply implausible, they're disingenuous, and they're designed to protect the Assad regime from accountability for its perverse actions.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Okay, I want to thank you all for joining us on this call this afternoon. As a reminder, all information on this call is attributed to a senior administration official. Give me a call with questions, please, or send me an email. Thank you all.

Donald J. Trump, Background Press Briefing by Senior Administration Officials on Syria Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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