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U.S. plans to impose sanctions on Russia over alleged chemical weapons use in Syria

After airstrikes against Syrian chemical weapons facilities on April 13, lawmakers and Trump administration officials weighed in on the attack. (Video: Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post, Photo: Susan Walsh/The Washington Post)

The Trump administration signaled Sunday that it will impose new sanctions as soon as this week on Russia for supporting the Syrian regime as it allegedly conducted a deadly chemical attack against its own people.

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, announced the sanctions and President Trump’s commitment to staying involved in the Syria crisis hours before French President Emmanuel Macron took credit for helping turn around Trump’s plan to withdraw U.S. troops.

“Ten days ago, President Trump was saying that the United States would disengage from Syria,” Macron said Sunday night. “We convinced him that it was necessary to stay there long-term.”

Haley, speaking on CBS News’s “Face the Nation,” suggested that there are no plans to pare down the U.S. presence in Syria anytime soon. On “Fox News Sunday,” Haley said troop withdrawal would come after three goals had been accomplished: defeating Islamic State militants, ensuring that chemical weapons will not be used, and maintaining the ability to watch Iran.

The aim, she said, is “to see American troops come home, but we are not going to leave until we know we have accomplished those things.”

The White House on Sunday did not immediately address Macron’s comments, made during a televised debate with two journalists.

Haley, the administration’s most prominent diplomatic voice until a new secretary of state is confirmed, said the new round of sanctions will target Russian companies that have helped the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad make and deploy chemical weapons. A suspected chemical weapons attack April 7 spurred the United States and its allies to launch more than 100 missiles at Syria over the weekend.

“You will see that Russian sanctions will be coming down,” Haley said.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin “will be announcing those Monday, if he hasn’t already,” she added. “And they will go directly to any sort of companies that were dealing with equipment related to Assad and chemical weapons use. I think everyone is going to feel it at this point. I think everyone knows that we sent a strong message, and our hope is that they listen to it.”

‘Big price to pay’: Inside Trump’s decision to bomb Syria

Haley has been one of the strongest voices accusing Russia of enabling the Syrian government in its alleged use of chemical weapons in the civil war, which is in its seventh year. Russia has vetoed at least six resolutions in the U.N. Security Council regarding chemical weapons. The Russian vetoes have been one of the main irritants in strained relations between Washington and Moscow, with Western diplomats accusing Russia of trying to protect the Assad government.

The Trump administration has placed sanctions on Russian individuals and entities, including penalties targeting Russian oligarchs who are close to President Vladimir Putin. The rollout of new sanctions is usually closely guarded, in part to prevent people subjected to them from quickly moving their money around. The Treasury Department does not comment on pending sanctions.

Assad is defiant as U.S.-led strikes in Syria show no sign of threatening his hold on power

Haley spoke less than two days after the United States, France and Britain struck at three facilities that the administration called the “heart” of Syria’s chemical weapons program. But it is unclear how much capacity Syria retains to produce chemical weapons and whether the strikes chipped away at the government’s political will to deploy them.

For the near future, the strikes indicate that the White House has no intention of withdrawing 2,000 U.S. troops currently in Syria, as Trump suggested on April 3 that he intends to do.

Macron, appearing on television in Paris, suggested that he had played a key role in persuading Trump both to act in Syria and to stabilize the region long-term.

His comments were not a formal declaration, and it was not immediately clear what Macron meant by saying that he persuaded Trump to “stay there.” Immediately after the remark, he emphasized the precise, targeted nature of the strike, which occurred early Saturday local time.

“We convinced him to limit the strikes to chemical weapons when, at the same time, there was a burst of tweets that did not escape you,” Macron said.

A spokesman for the Elysee Palace did not immediately return several requests for further comment.

Macron — in response to critical questions about the legality of the mission — insisted that it was a matter of “international legitimacy,” if not international legality. The “very precise” operation was also carried out without declaring war on the Assad regime or engendering any collateral damage with regard to the Russians, he said.

As the coming sanctions underscore, the United States will continue to bear down on Russia over its ongoing support of the Assad government and to prod it to rid Syria of chemical weapons, as Moscow committed to do in a 2013 agreement negotiated with the Obama administration.

On “Fox News Sunday,” Haley again slammed Russia, accusing it of enabling the Syrian government to use chemical weapons without worrying about blowback from the United Nations.

“Assad knew that Russia had its back, Assad knew that Russia would cover for them at the United Nations, and Assad got reckless, and he used it in a way that was far more aggressive,” she said. “We have to be conscious of the fact that we can’t allow even the smallest use of chemical weapons.”

Haley said Trump is prepared to strike Syria again if that happens, though she declined to say how the United States would respond to the use of conventional weapons.

Trump tries to appear strong in Syria even as he plans to withdraw

“We of course know that our work in Syria is not done,” she said. “We know that it is now up to Bashar al-Assad on whether he’s going to use chemical weapons again. And should he use it again, the president has made it very clear that the United States is locked and loaded and ready to go.”