After initially refusing to explicitly blame Russia for the poisoning of a former spy in Britain, the Trump administration said Wednesday that the Kremlin “is responsible for the attack” — though the president himself has remained mum on the topic.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said the White House agreed with U.K. Prime Minister Teresa May’s assertion that Russia was likely to blame for the poisoning, which left 66-year-old Sergei Skripal and his daughter hospitalized in the city of Salisbury earlier this month.
Speaking at a Security Council emergency session, Haley added that “immediate” action was needed to prevent similar attacks.
“If we don’t take immediate concrete measures to address this now, Salisbury will not be the last place we see chemical weapons used,” Haley said. “They could be used here in New York or in cities of any country that sits on this council.”
The White House backed Haley’s remarks, saying it believed the Russian state was “responsible for the reckless nerve agent attack” on Skripal and his daughter, both of whom remain critically ill. May said this week that the Skripals had been poisoned with novichok, a highly toxic nerve agent developed in the former Soviet Union.
“The United States stands in solidarity with its closest ally, the United Kingdom,” the White House said in a statement, adding that it supported the U.K.’s decision to expel 23 Russian diplomats “as a just response.”
The remarks by Haley and the White House represent the strongest stance the Trump administration has taken on the issue since London identified Russia as the likely culprit.
On Monday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders faced criticism for pointedly avoiding saying “Russia” while discussing the incident. That same day, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson apparently broke with the official White House narrative when he explicitly called out Moscow as a possible source of the poisoning. Tillerson was fired the next day.
Even as the White House line appears to have shifted, Trump himself has not personally blamed Russia for the attack. Trump has been lambasted in the past for his hesitance to criticize Russian leader Vladimir Putin and his government, including over alleged Russian meddling in American politics.
The Kremlin has vehemently denied the poisoning accusations. Moscow’s ambassador to the U.N. suggested on Wednesday that U.K. itself may have been responsible for the attack on the Skripals to smear Russia’s reputation, reported CNN.