Donald Trump’s decision to launch a cruise missile attack on Syria proved he is not in league with Russia and will not be “pushed around” by Vladimir Putin, the US President’s son has told The Daily Telegraph.
Eric Trump said his father was not intimidated by President Putin’s talk of war, and there would be “no-one harder” than President Trump if they “cross us”.
He also confirmed that President Trump’s decision to bomb a Syrian airbase to punish President Bashar al-Assad for a nerve gas attack last week was influenced by the reaction of his sister Ivanka, who said she was “heartbroken and outraged” by the atrocity.
As foreign ministers of the G7 group of nations met to agree the best way to put pressure on Mr Putin, Mr Johnson said the US missile strike had “changed the game” and Russia now “needs a way out” because association with Assad’s “toxic regime is…poisoning the reputation of Russia”.
In a significant hardening of US policy, Rex Tillerson, the US Secretary of State, is understood to have told Mr Johnson America now backs regime change in Syria. On Sunday he had refused to call directly for Assad to go.
Ahead of the G7 meeting in Italy, Mr Tillerson said the Nazi atrocities of the Second World War would “serve as an inspiration to us all” as he visited a memorial in Italy to 560 people, including 130 children, massacred by the Waffen-SS in 1944.
He said: “We rededicate ourselves to holding to account any and all who commit crimes against the innocents anywhere in the world.”
The Kremlin responded by trying to belittle Mr Tillerson, saying he was not scheduled to meet Mr Putin, contrary to reports that he would.
It also announced that a Kilo-class submarine had successfully carried out a cruise missile test in the Baltic Sea, having previously warned that it would retaliate if there were further US missile strikes in Syria.
The US State Department said it did not expect imminent regime change, and its immediate priority was stabilising Syria.
However, a White House spokesman said last night: “If you gas a baby, you’re going to see a reaction from this President.”
Writing in Tuesday’s Telegraph, William Hague, the former foreign secretary, says that the “sad truth” has now dawned on President Trump – that “Russia under Putin is not a reliable partner”.
Mr Trump’s son Eric, 33, who has taken over the running of his father’s property empire with his brother, Donald Jnr, warned Mr Putin his father was “deeply committed” to building what could be the world’s largest ever peacetime military force as he is a “big believer” in Ronald Reagan’s philosophy of achieving peace through strength.
President Trump pledged to improve relations with Mr Putin during his campaign for the White House but his new administration has been plagued with allegations of close entanglements with Russian officials.
Eric Trump said his father was merely arguing that the US should try to be “best friends with other superpowers” if that was possible and described allegations of links with the Russian regime as “ridiculous”.
He said: “If there was anything that Syria did, it was to validate the fact that there is no Russia tie.”
Speaking at the Trump Turnberry golf resort in Ayrshire, he said: “If they disrespect us and if they cross us, fine. There will be no one harder – he has got more backbone than anybody. We’re no worse off than we were before. Maybe we’re finding that we can’t be.”
Asked about Mr Putin’s threats of military escalation over Syria, he said: “He is not a guy who gets intimidated. I can tell you he is tough and he won’t be pushed around. The cards will shake out the way they do but he’s tough.”
Mr Trump said his father was “deeply affected” by the television images in the aftermath of the Syrian chemical attack of children being “sprayed down by hoses to keep their skin from burning.”
The businessman, whose wife is pregnant with their first child, said: “It was horrible. These guys are savages and I’m glad he responded the way he responded.”
He added: “Ivanka is a mother of three kids and she has influence. I’m sure she said ‘listen, this is horrible stuff.’ My father will act in times like that.
“And by the way, he was anti doing anything with Syria two years ago. Then a leader gasses their own people, women and children, at some point America is the global leader and the world’s superpower has to come forward and act and they did with a lot of support of our allies and I think that’s a great thing.”
Mr Trump rejected claims his father had acted impulsively after seeing the images, saying the President was “a great thinker, practical not impulsive.” He added: “I’m proud he took that action and believe me he thinks things through.”
Mr Johnson said that Mr Tillerson would go to Russia later this week with a “very clear” message from the G7 countries: “Do they want to stick with a toxic regime, do they want to be eternally associated with a guy who gases his own people, or do they want to work with the Americans and the rest of the G7 and like-minded countries for a new future for Syria?”
He said the gas attack and subsequent US bombing of a Syrian air base had presented “a very substantial opportunity” to find a political solution to the six-year civil war.
He added that the G7 meeting in Lucca, which continues on Tuesday, would discuss the possibility of sanctions against Syrian and Russian “military figures” involved in coordinating Syrian bombing.
Mr Johnson’s decision to cancel a trip to Moscow before the G7 meeting came under fresh scrutiny when Italy’s president, Sergio Mattarella, arrived in Moscow on an official visit on Monday, ahead of talks with Mr Putin on Tuesday.
The Italian ministry of foreign affairs muddled the message coming from the G7 meeting by saying “the total eradication” of Isil in Syria and Iraq, as well as combating terrorism and violent extremism, were priorities for the G7 countries.
Mr Johnson said he had cancelled his own trip to Moscow because it was vital “for the world to present a united front and for there to be absolutely no ambiguity” in the message taken to Mr Putin.
Asked why he thought the threat of sanctions against Russia would work now when it has not worked in the past, he said: “I think the Russians need a way out and a way forward.”