President Donald Trump has yet to make a final decision on a potential military strike on Syria in the wake of a suspected chemical attack that killed dozens of people.
“We are continuing to assess intelligence and are engaged in conversations with our partners and allies,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Thursday in a statement.
Trump had earlier met with his national security team to discuss the situation in Syria.
He is expected to phone his British and French counterparts Thursday evening to continue discussions on a possible military response.
The White Helmets, a civil defense agency, blamed the Bashar al-Assad regime for a chemical attack Saturday night in the city of Douma in Eastern Ghouta which it said killed 78 civilians and injured hundreds of others.
U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis said he believes the suspected chemical attack took place but said the U.S. is still “looking for the actual evidence”. He said the U.S. has “a lot of media and social media indicators that either chlorine or sarin were used”.
A National Security Council spokeswoman told Anadolu Agency the symptoms the U.S. is evaluating from medical professionals and social media posts “are consistent with an asphyxiation agent and with a nerve agent of some type”.
The comments follow an NBC News report claiming the U.S. has obtained blood and urine samples from a suspected chemical attack in Syria that have tested positive for both an unidentified nerve agent and chlorine gas exposure.
Two anonymous officials were “confident” but not one hundred percent certain in the intelligence, NBC News reported.
The U.S. officials told the American news outlet that the Assad regime is known to have used a mixture of chlorine and the nerve agent sarin in previous attacks. They also said the U.S. in conjunction with other countries has compiled intelligence, including images, that indicates the Assad regime carried out last weekend’s fatal attack.
The U.S. is currently assessing eight targets for a potential military response, sister news outlet CNBC separately reported. The sites reportedly include “two Syrian airfields, a research center and a chemical weapons facility”.
Mattis said Thursday that Trump has yet to decide on whether he will pursue military action in Syria.
“We have not yet made any decision to launch military attacks into Syria,” Mattis told lawmakers on the House Armed Services committee. “The president has not made that decision.”
Asked what worries him most about possible military action the U.S. might take, Mattis said: “On a strategic level, it’s how do we keep this from escalating out of control.”
Earlier Thursday, Trump appeared to walk back comments in which he warned Russia to brace for missiles which he said “will be coming”.
“Never said when an attack on Syria would take place. Could be very soon or not so soon at all!” Trump said Thursday on Twitter.
Later, he told reporters a decision will “be made fairly soon”.