White House talking points on Syria before Haley's interview cite intended Russia sanctions

The day before US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley went on national television saying that new sanctions would be ann...

Posted: Apr 21, 2018 5:44 PM
Updated: Apr 21, 2018 5:44 PM

The day before US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley went on national television saying that new sanctions would be announced against Russia, the White House sent out a list of talking points to surrogates advocating such a move. But the day after she announced sanctions would be coming, the White House contradicted itself, abruptly saying it would not be following through with the sanctions.

CNN obtained an email distributed by the White House on Saturday morning, April 14, outlining the administration's response to an alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria. The talking points said, "We also intend to impose specific additional sanctions against Russia to respond to Moscow's ongoing support for the Assad regime, which has enabled the regime's atrocities against the Syrian people. "

It is unclear whether these were the talking points Haley was using when she made her TV appearance.

The talking points in the email included wording criticizing Russia for standing "in the way of every effort the United States and our partners have taken over the past year" as well as for repeatedly undermining international efforts to "pressure the [Syrian] regime to surrender its remaining chemical weapons stockpiles and completely destroy its program."

Surrogates were told to point out that Russia "used its veto power six times over the past year to block UN Security Council resolutions" that would have held Syria accountable for using chemical weapons and that, "Most egregiously, Russia took away the world's ability to attribute the chemical weapons attacks in Syria by vetoing the renewal of the UN-OPCW Joint Investigative Mechanism -- an impartial, independent technical body mandated to investigate responsibility for chemical weapons use in Syria."

Haley announced on CBS's "Face the Nation" on Sunday that the US Treasury Department would formalize additional sanctions on Russia the following day, but The Washington Post later reported that President Donald Trump had yet to sign off on the move.

The administration's attempts to roll back Haley's Sunday comments rippled across Washington, and White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow's comment that "there might have been some momentary confusion" from the UN ambassador prompted a sharp rebuttal.

"With all due respect, I don't get confused," Haley shot back at Kudlow on Tuesday.

Two administration officials familiar with the matter said Trump changed his mind about imposing additional sanctions and that was not communicated to Haley. One source described the matter as a communication breakdown.

Sources said that when Haley made her television appearance Sunday it was based on accurate information she'd received in a briefing from the White House.

A source with knowledge of discussions said Trump wasn't happy that Haley was speaking publicly about the sanctions before he was ready. The source said Trump was also annoyed that, to his mind, Europeans weren't taking as much punitive action against Russia.

Administration talking points, as distributed April 14:

Top-Line Talking Points | Syrian Strike

  • On Friday evening, three chemical weapons facilities maintained by the regime of Syria were targeted by U.S., French, and British Forces. Our strikes were focused on crippling Syria's chemical weapons capabilities and deterring their further use, consistent with U.S. and our allies' policy on Syria.
  • These CW attacks by the Syrian regime violate its obligations under Security Council resolution 2118 and the Chemical Weapons Convention, and Assad should be held accountable.
  • The United States has tried repeatedly to use diplomatic, economic, and political tools to stop the Assad regime's use of chemical weapons. We have sought action at the UN. We have tried imposing sanctions in partnership with the EU and other countries. However, Russia has stood in the way of every effort the United States and our partners have taken over the past year. Russia has repeatedly undermined efforts at the OPCW to pressure the regime to surrender its remaining chemical weapons stockpiles and completely destroy its program. Russia has also used its veto power six times over the past year to block UN Security Council resolutions and prevent the regime from being held accountable for its continuous use of chemical weapons. Most egregiously, Russia took away the world's ability to attribute the chemical weapons attacks in Syria by vetoing the renewal of the UN-OPCW Joint Investigative Mechanism -- an impartial, independent technical body mandated to investigate responsibility for chemical weapons use in Syria.
  • These military strikes reinforce the message President Trump sent last April when the United States struck Shayrat Airbase following a regime chemical attack that killed dozens of innocent people. The message then and now is clear: actors who use these abhorrent weapons will be held accountable for their actions. These strikes are not intended as a provocation against the Russian Federation or its forces in Syria. We do not seek armed conflict with the Russian Federation.
  • The images of dead and dying children following the Syrian regime's most recent chemical attack represent a call to action among the world's civilized nations.
  • Countries that have the ability-but fail- to hold chemical weapons users accountable make themselves complicit in these outrages. Further, the failure to respond will not only embolden the Assad regime but also convince despots around the world that weapons of mass destruction can be used without penalty.
  • Russia has failed to live up to its 2013 promise to ensure that Syria would never be able to use chemical weapons on its citizens again.
  • The purpose of these recent military operations taken together with key partners is not simply to hold Assad and other Syrian regime officials accountable for these atrocities, but to degrade the regime's capability to commit them, and to deter the use of these grotesque weapons in the future by the Syrian regime. We also want to ensure that evil regimes and terrorists understand this message of deterrence.
  • Everyone must understand that the costs of using chemical weapons will always outweigh any military or political benefits.
  • Punishing the use of the world's most abhorrent weapons is essential to preventing their normalization. With each chemical attack that goes unpunished, the world grows progressively desensitized to their horror. If this trend continues, we can expect the increased acquisition and use of these weapons by additional states in the future, and that undermines the security of us all.
  • As state inventories of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons and the materials used to produce them grow, so does the likelihood that these weapons will fall into terrorist hands. Deterring state possession and use of weapons of mass destruction is therefore crucial to keeping these weapons beyond the reach of terrorists who, like Assad, would use them.
  • Our strikes against Syria are part of a broader U.S. effort to deter and de-normalize the use of chemical weapons. Over the last year, we have imposed hundreds of sanctions on individuals and entities complicit in chemical weapons use in Syria and in North Korea, and designated entities in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa that have helped facilitate WMD proliferation activities. We also expelled 60 Russian intelligence officers working under diplomatic cover in response to Russia's use of a chemical weapon in the UK. In response to this attack, we will/are/have designate additional entities who support is critical to the Assad regime's CW use. We will continue to find those aiding, abetting, or performing such crimes to call them out and prevent their illicit activities.
  • The U.S. and its allies made efforts to minimize the risk of civilian casualties in planning and execution of these strikes.
  • For all these reasons, these strikes were legitimate, proportionate, and justified.
  • The United States and our allies call upon Syria to immediately declare all aspects of its chemical weapons program to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), destroy its remaining chemical weapons stockpiles, dismantle its chemical weapons program entirely, and cooperative fully with the OPCW. We call on Syria's protectors to ensure that this time Assad complies.
  • We anticipate a significant increase in social media disinformation by malign actors, as we have seen in the past.

Implications for Russia

  • These strikes are intended as a response to the unconscionable chemical weapons attacks by the Assad Regime, and not as a provocation against the Russian Federation or its forces in Syria.
  • These military actions were designed to respond to the Syrian regime's chemical weapons use and degrade its ability to produce and use chemical weapons, and to deter any further Syrian regime use of chemicals weapons.
  • We also intend to impose specific additional sanctions against Russia to respond to Moscow's ongoing support for the Assad regime, which has enabled the regime's atrocities against the Syrian people.
  • The message that Russia should take from our actions is that it cannot pretend to be a responsible member of the international community while supporting this odious regime.

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