There is "every reason to believe" Russia intentionally left chemical weapons in the hands of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and no doubt that "Russia aided and abetted" last week's chemical attack that claimed numerous victims, including babies and children, Sen. Lindsey Graham said Tuesday.
"It's impossible for me to believe that Russia operates at the same air base where the chemical weapons were stored and launched from, and they had no knowledge of it," the South Carolina Republican told CNN. "They either are completely incompetent or complicit."
Graham called on Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in his meetings in Moscow on Tuesday to present the message that when Russia claims Assad did not launch the chemical attack, "you're wrong," and that "we hold you accountable for not disarming his chemical weapons cache, as you promised."
However, Graham said Tillerson's comments that he hopes for Russia to break away from Syria and Iran are "naive."
"Putin's regime is aligned with Syria and Iran and the way they do business," Graham said. "They will never break away until the cost of doing business is too high. If you want Russia to abandon Assad, you have to create cause for Russia."
Russia was not only complicit with Syria over the chemical bombs, but has been helping Assad stay in power by "bombing hospitals, committing war crimes themselves," Graham continued.
While Graham said he does not know if Russia knew what action Assad would take, it's hard to believe Moscow did not know about the chemical weapons and called on the United States not to have its "head in the sand" when it comes to Russia.
"[Vladimir] Putin's a war criminal," Graham said. "Assad's a war criminal. They're birds of a feather. If you wanted to break Russia away from Assad, make them pay a heavier price than today for backing them."
He does, though, think President Donald Trump's decision to launch a Tomahawk strike on the Syrian airbase used in the chemical weapons was a "game changer."
"There's a new sheriff in town," Graham said. "I hope North Korea is watching. Let me tell you this, if I were you I would be reluctant to take Trump on if I were an adversary of the United States. He's very unpredictable. He's subject to using military force when he thinks it's justified. I would not dally at all with Trump."
Graham on Tuesday also said the United States should consider Assad's use of barrel bombs to attack civilians a reason to intervene in the ongoing Syrian civil war. Trump said last week that the use of chemical weapons crossed lines to prompt the missile strikes, but did not mention the barrel bombs.
"Here's what I would tell President Trump," Graham said. "You did a great thing by enforcing the chemical weapons violation. But it's not about how you killed the babies, it's the fact that you're slaughtering innocent people through air power."
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