President Donald Trump acknowledged Tuesday British evidence that the Russians may have been behind the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter in England, but he stopped short of blaming Moscow “until we get the facts straight.”
“It sounds to me like it would be Russia based on all the evidence they have,” Trump told reporters outside the White House.
Trump spoke by phone Tuesday with British Prime Minister Theresa May about the attack in southern England on Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia.
The White House said Trump agreed with May that Russia “must provide unambiguous answers” about how the weapon ended up being used in the U.K. They also agreed on “the need for consequences” for those responsible for the attack.
Britain gave Russia by the end of Tuesday to explain how the nerve agent developed by the Soviet Union was used to poison Skripal, a former Russian double agent who gave secrets to British intelligence officials.
If Russia does not comply with the request, May said Britain would take “extensive” retaliatory action.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov insisted Tuesday Moscow was “not to blame” and would only cooperate with a British investigation if it gets samples of the nerve agent that is believed to have been used. But Lavrov said requests for the samples had been rejected, which he said violates the Chemical Weapons Convention. The convention prohibits the production of chemical weapons.
Russia’s foreign ministry said later Tuesday Moscow would retaliate for any sanctions Britain impose in response to the attack.
“Any threats will not remain unanswered,” a ministry statement said.
Prime Minister May said it was “highly likely” Russia was behind the attacks and warned after meeting with members of her national security council that Britain would not tolerate such a “brazen attempt to murder innocent civilians on our soil.” The Skripals remain hospitalized in critical condition in their home city of Salisbury in southern England.
Specialist bio- and chemical weapons teams have been working around the clock at the site of the March 4 attack.
On Monday, May told lawmakers the substance used to poison the Skripals belonged to a group of military-grade nerve agents known as “Novichock.”
“Russia has previously produced this agent and would still be capable of doing so,” May said. “Russia’s record of conducting state-sponsored assassinations, and our assessment that Russia views some defectors as legitimate targets for assassinations, the government has concluded that it is highly likely that Russia was responsible for the act against Sergei and Yulia Skripal,” she said.
“Either this was a direct act by the Russian state against our country, or the Russian government lost control of its potentially catastrophically damaging nerve agent, and allowed it to get into the hands of others,” May said.
By: Henry Ridgwell