Visitors walk through Red Square near Saint Basil’s cathedral in Moscow, Russia. (Photographer: Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg)

U.S. Eyes Russia Sanctions for Syria, U.K. Sees One-Time Hit

(Bloomberg) -- Fresh sanctions will be imposed on Russia related to Syria’s reported use of chemical weapons as the U.S. and U.K. assess the fallout and next steps after Friday night’s strike on the Middle Eastern country, the top U.S. diplomat to the United Nations said.

UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, speaking Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” said U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin will announce new sanctions Monday that “go directly to any sort of companies that were dealing with equipment” related to Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad and his chemical weapons.

The goal is to discourage any future use and stop Russia from “covering” for its ally, she said. “Everyone is going to feel it at this point,” Haley said. “Everyone knows that we sent a strong message, and our hope is that they listen to it.”

A Treasury spokesman said the department doesn’t comment on sanctions.

President Donald Trump declared “mission accomplished” via Twitter on Saturday, a day after the U.S., France and the U.K. launched military strikes in response to Assad’s suspected chemical attack on civilians. Haley said the U.S. remains “locked and loaded” to respond to any continued use of chemical weapons, even as U.K. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson insisted that the hit on Syria’s chemical arms infrastructure was a one-time move with “no proposal on the table” for further strikes.

U.S. Eyes Russia Sanctions for Syria, U.K. Sees One-Time Hit

“The overwhelming purpose, the mission, was to send a message,” Johnson said. “Finally the world has said enough is enough.” He conceded that this meant “the rest of the Syrian war must proceed as it will” and that Assad would be allowed to “butcher his way” to victory.

With Prime Minister Theresa May due to face critics in Parliament on Monday, Johnson’s comments highlighted the strains that even Friday night’s limited offensive produced for the trans-Atlantic allies after years of struggle in Afghanistan and Iraq. If May were to seek a mandate for a wider intervention, she’d risk the defeat that her predecessor David Cameron suffered over the same issue in 2013.

In Middle Eastern financial markets, optimism that the Syria attack wasn’t going to lead to a wider fallout saw stocks advance on Sunday. Dubai’s main equity gauge climbed the most since July, and 99 percent of companies in Saudi Arabia’s Tadawul index rose.

U.S. Reaction

The reception in the U.S. has been been mostly positive. Trump’s approval rating rose to 40 percent, the highest level this year, in a poll by ABC News and the Washington Post -- although a separate poll, conducted for NBC News and the Wall Street Journal, his approval rating fell to 39 percent, down four points on the month.

Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine said on ABC’s “This Week” that while the air strikes on Syria were proportional and justifiable, they don’t “solve the problem that we do not have an overall comprehensive strategy for dealing with Syria.”

Trump has said he wants U.S. troops out of Syria quickly, but Haley wouldn’t confirm a timetable for withdrawal on Sunday. She said the U.S. remains committed to deterring any future chemical attack, defeating the so-called Islamic State and ensuring that Iran doesn’t seize more influence in the region.

Basis for Attack

In Monday’s session in Parliament, May will explain her decision to take part in the bombing. Though she has tried to avoid a vote on whether she was right, Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow could still grant one. The signs on Sunday were that lawmakers in her Conservative Party will back her -- the government’s emphasis on the limited nature of the Syria strike makes this easier -- and that the opposition Labour Party would be more split.

U.K. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has spent his political career opposing British and American military interventions and he told the BBC that the legal basis for the attack on Syria was “debatable.” He called for the U.S. to work with Russia to deliver a cease-fire in the civil war.

The strikes have also highlighted once again the division between Corbyn and the government over the role of Russia in world affairs.

To Corbyn, Russia is a potential partner. He called for a repeat of the 2013 process that saw the U.S. and U.K. back away from a punitive attack on Assad while Russia negotiated what was supposed to be the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons stocks.

Putin Problem

“Several hundred tons of chemical weapons were destroyed as a result of that process,” Corbyn told the BBC.

May’s government views Russian President Vladimir Putin as a serious problem rather than a possible partner. Russia has suggested that both the poisoning of former double agent Sergei Skripal and the chemical weapon attack in Syria might have been a false flag operation by Britain. Johnson described the first idea as “utterly preposterous and deranged” and the second as “absolutely demented.”

Nevertheless, Johnson said, “we in the U.K. do not seek an escalation. Absolutely not.” He said strong efforts had been made to communicate to Russia that the bombing in Syria was “limited to saying no to chemical weapons.”

‘We Meant Business’

Haley said the goal of the attack by the U.S., U.K. and France was not to start a war or kill people, but to send a strong message about the use of chemical weapons that will be augmented by diplomatic actions related to Syria, Haley said.

“We wanted their friends Iran and Russia to know that we meant business and that they were going to be feeling the pain from this as well,” Haley said on CBS. The U.S. previously expelled diplomats and imposed sanctions related to nerve agent poisoning and other actions.

The U.S. earlier this month sanctioned Russian tycoons, companies and key allies of Putin, including in the energy sector, under provisions of a law calling for retaliation against Moscow for meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.