GOP Sen. Marco Rubio cites Rex Tillerson's remarks as 'incentive' in Syrian chemical attack

PHOTO: Sen. Marco Rubio speaks during a press conference at the U.S. Capitol, April 5, 2017, in Washington.PlayWin McNamee/Getty Images
WATCH Another suspected chemical attack is latest chapter in brutal Syrian conflict

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio today criticized the Trump administration for what he called its conciliatory position on Syria, saying it's not "coincidental" that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons on civilians just days after U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the United States will no longer insist that Assad step down.

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"It's my belief that if you're Bashar al-Assad and you read that it is no longer a priority of the United States to have you removed from power — I believe that that is an incentive to act with impunity," Rubio, the junior Florida senator, said at a news conference today.

He added, "I personally do not believe that it's coincidental."

Tillerson said last week during a press availability in Turkey, "The longer-term status of President Assad will be decided by the Syrian people."

Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said on ABC News' "This Week" on Sunday that Assad "is not going away," although adding that "we're not going to stop beating up on him."

Rubio said he doesn't believe Tillerson thought Assad would take advantage of his remarks by carrying out a chemical attack, as he did this week, reportedly leaving at least 72 civilians dead.

The senator also said he thought Assad likely would have carried out the attack regardless of what, if anything, the Trump administration said.

The White House did not immediately respond to ABC News' request for comment.

Rubio and Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., organized the news conference today to announce legislation that they said would seek to hold Assad accountable in international criminal court as a war criminal.

"We need to get him indicted," Cardin said.

Rubio was asked during the news conference about Trump's statement in reaction to the Syrian attack, in which he said, "President Obama said in 2012 that he would establish a 'red line' against the use of chemical weapons and then did nothing."

Rubio said, "That presidency's over. We have a new presidency."

He added that shifting blame from Assad and Russian President Vladimir Putin, an Assad ally, does not help.

"Any effort to take any iota of blame away from the people truly responsible does not further the cause that we seek to make and bring light to today," Rubio said.

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