WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump has scrapped plans to travel to Peru and Colombia this week, choosing to remain in the U.S. to oversee the American response to a suspected chemical attack in Syria.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders announced the news in a statement on Tuesday morning.
“President Trump will not attend the 8th Summit of the Americas in Lima, Peru or travel to Bogota, Colombia as originally scheduled,” Sanders said. “At the President’s request, the Vice President will travel in his stead.”
Trump had already cut the visit short twice — from five days, to three — and, finally, to none.
Jarrod Agen, Vice President Mike Pence’s deputy chief of staff, described Pence as “honored to represent the United States” at the summit.
During that trip, Pence met with the presidents of Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Panama to negotiate trade deals and discuss concerns about Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s regime, which has been described as increasingly dictatorial by the U.S. and Colombia.
Pence, who the White House said will also travel to Brazil next month, was last summer said to have been far more conciliatory in his response to Maduro than Trump, who had threatened military intervention in Venezuela.
The president’s decision to cancel his Latin America trip hints at a possible larger American military operation than a limited strike in Syria.
Trump has pledged a “forceful” response, and has spoken of numerous military options.
Last April, after a Sarin nerve agent attack killed more than 80 people in a Syrian opposition-held town, Trump ordered the firing of dozens of cruise missiles at a Syrian government air base from U.S. Navy ships in the Mediterranean.
It was the first direct U.S. military action against forces commanded by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May also spoke to President Trump and President Macron of France in separate calls on Tuesday.
The AFP news agency quoted French government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux as saying on Tuesday that “if a red line had been crossed, there will be a response”, adding that intelligence shared by the French and US leaders “in theory confirms the use of chemical weapons”.
The U.S. and France, however, have not released evidence to support their assessments of the alleged attack in Douma.
Neither the death toll nor what exactly occurred can be verified as the area is blocked off, with access denied.
Russia has warned at the U.N. Security Council that U.S. military action could have “grave repercussions”.
The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said a team would deploy to Syria “shortly”.
Syria denies being behind any chemical attack.