US President Donald Trump met Thursday with his national security team on the situation in Syria, where he has threatened missile strikes in response to an alleged poison gas attack, with the White House later saying in a statement that "no final decision has been made."
"We are continuing to assess intelligence and are engaged in conversations with our partners and allies," the statement said, adding that Trump would speak later on Thursday with French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Theresa May.
Fears of confrontation between Russia, Syria's big ally, and the West have been running high since Trump said Wednesday that missiles "will be coming" in response to the alleged attack in the Syrian town of Douma on April 7, and lambasted Moscow for standing by Syrian President Bashar Assad.
"Never said when an attack on Syria would take place. Could be very soon or not so soon at all!" Trump wrote in a tweet Thursday.
Later, he said: "We're having a number of meetings today, we'll see what happens. Now we have to make some ... decisions, so they'll be made fairly soon."
Russia, Syria's most important ally in the 7-year-old war with militants, said it deployed military police in Douma Thursday after the town was taken over by the Army. "They are the guarantors of law and order in the town," RIA news agency quoted Russia's Defense Ministry as saying.
There were signs of a global effort to head off a direct confrontation between Russia and the West. The Kremlin said a crisis communications link with the US, created to avoid an accidental clash over Syria, was in use.
There was no direct word from Russian President Vladimir Putin on the crisis, though he discussed the situation with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan by phone Thursday, Interfax news agency said.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said Moscow sought no escalation of the situation, but could not support "dishonest accusations" and had found no evidence of an alleged chemical weapons attack in Douma.
Statements from Washington have been militaristic, and threats by the US and France were a violation of the UN charter, ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said.
Syria's military has repositioned some air assets to avoid missile strikes, US officials told Reuters. Locating them alongside Russian military hardware might make Washington reluctant to hit them.
Russian ships had left the Tartus naval base in Syria, Interfax news agency quoted a Russian lawmaker as saying. Vladimir Shamanov, who chairs the defense committee of the lower house, said the vessels had departed the base for their own safety, which was "normal practice" when there were threats of attack.
The Russian military said it observed movements of US naval forces in the Gulf. Any US strike would probably involve the navy, given the risk to aircraft from Russian and Syrian air defenses. A US guided-missile destroyer, the USS Donald Cook, is in the Mediterranean.
The Syrian conflict has widened the rifts between Moscow, Washington and European powers and inflamed the bitter rivalries that run across the Middle East.
Syria, Russia and Iran say reports of the alleged attack were fabricated by militants and alleged rescue workers in Douma and have accused the US of seizing upon it as a pretext to attack the government.
Nervous world stock markets showed signs of recovery after Trump signaled military strikes might not be imminent.
Source: News Agencies, Edited by website team