U.S. Bolsters Naval Forces Near Syria as Tensions Remain High

(Bloomberg) -- The U.S. guided-missile destroyer USS Winston Churchill entered the Navy’s area of operations that includes the Mediterranean amid heightened tensions over a possible military strike against Syria.

The Winston Churchill, which can carry as many as 90 Tomahawk missiles, is in the region “to conduct a routine deployment in support of U.S. maritime security interests, increased regional stability and forward naval presence in the U.S. 6th fleet area of operations,” according to a statement by U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa. It joins the USS Donald Cook, another guided-missile destroyer, in the region.

President Donald Trump continued reviewing his military options in Syria a day after he and U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May agreed it is “vital” to respond to an alleged chemical weapons attack on civilians last weekend. United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Friday called the situation in the Middle East “chaos” and urged restraint.

The risk, Guterres said, is “that things spiral out of control” in a seven-year conflict that already involves military forces from Russia, the U.S., Iran and Turkey as well as Kurdish militias and terror groups including al-Qaeda and Islamic State.

“Syrians have lived through a litany of horrors: atrocity crimes, sieges, starvation, indiscriminate attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure, the use of chemical weapons, forced displacement, sexual violence, torture, detention and enforced disappearances,” Guterres said. “The list goes on.”

Oil headed for the biggest weekly advance in more than eight months on speculation that conflict could lead to supply disruptions, reinforcing a buy call on commodities by Goldman Sachs Group Inc.

Experts from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons are expected in Syria this weekend for a fact-finding mission to Douma, where the alleged April 7 chemical attack took place. Syria will allow the experts to go “wherever they want to go and at any time,” the country’s permanent representative to the UN, Bashar Jaafari, said in a statement in New York on Thursday, according to state-run SANA news agency.

He dismissed British policy as “part of the problem,” adding: “We do not pay attention to what the British government might say because we already know that Britain is pushing for escalation.”

Pressure on Russia

President Vladimir Putin, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s ally, has appealed for common sense, and his spokesman said that Russian and American armed forces were maintaining contact via a telephone hotline.

Germany called for more pressure to be applied on Russia for its support of Assad.

“We can’t go on like this,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters Friday at the European Union’s headquarters in Brussels. “So we’re keeping up the political pressure on Russia and we’d like to increase it further. Getting Russia to change its behavior is a condition for solving the Syria conflict.”

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told the House Armed Services Committee on Thursday that his greatest fear from a potential strike on Syria is that the conflict would “escalate out of control, if you get my drift.” Russian, Turkish and Iranian forces are operating in Syria along with American forces combating Islamic State militants, risking a conflagration if a U.S. strike goes awry.

Mattis said that the U.S. aim in Syria is to defeat Islamic State, not “to engage in the civil war itself.” But referring to the use of chemical weapons, Mattis said that “some things are simply inexcusable, beyond the pale” and require a response.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.