WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump demanded on Tuesday “unambiguous answers” from Russia about who was behind the nerve agent attack on former Russian spy Sergey Skripal in the United Kingdom during a telephone conversation with British Prime Minister Theresa May.
The president agreed with May in their phone call that “the Russian government must provide unambiguous answers as to how this nerve agent came to be used” against Skripal and his daughter, the White House said in a statement.
“The two leaders agreed on the need for consequences for those who use these heinous weapons in flagrant violation of international norms,” the White House added.
Trump also expressed to May his solidarity with Washington’s “closest ally” and offered assistance to the British in their investigation of the apparent attempted hit on Skripal.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday a spokesperson for May’s office said that Trump told her that “the U.S. was with the UK all the way, agreeing that the Russian government must provide unambiguous answers as to how this nerve agent came to be used.”
Earlier on Tuesday, Trump had said that the US “will condemn Russia or whoever it may be” when it becomes known who was behind the attack on former Soviet double agent in England.
Trump told reporters outside the White House that he would be speaking by telephone with May and “It sounds to me like it would be Russia based on all the evidence they have.”
“It sounds to me like they believe it was Russia and I would certainly take that finding as fact,” he said, adding that “As soon as we get the facts straight, if we agree with them, we will condemn Russia or whoever it may be.”
On Monday night, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson – who had not yet been fired by Trump, a move that came on Tuesday morning – said that he had “full confidence” in the conclusion reached by Britain that there is a high probability Russia was behind the nerve-agent attack on Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the English city of Salisbury.
“We have full confidence in the UK’s investigation and its assessment that Russia was likely responsible for the nerve agent attack that took place in Salisbury last week,” Tillerson said in the statement.
The now-ousted secretary of state added in his Monday night statement that Russia is “an irresponsible force of instability in the world, acting with open disregard for the sovereignty of other states and the life of their citizens.”
May also strongly condemned the attack and promised British action against Russia, hiking Moscow-NATO tensions that had already been high.
However, on Tuesday morning, Trump announced on Twitter that he was firing Tillerson, effective immediately, replacing him at State with CIA Director Mike Pompeo.
British security agencies believe that Skripal, 66, and his 33-year-old daughter, both of whom are hospitalized in critical condition, were exposed to a Russian-made military nerve agent before losing consciousness on a park bench in Salisbury on March 4.
British army experts determined that the ex-spy was attacked with the “Novichok” nerve agent manufactured by Russia in the past and which Moscow could still have the ability to produce.
Traces of that nerve agent have also been found in a Salisbury restaurant and pub, authorities say.