The White House says US President Donald Trump has announced will skip the upcoming Summit of the Americas in Peru and will remain in the United States to "oversee the American response to Syria and to monitor developments around the world."
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement today that Trump will not attend the Summit of the Americas in Lima, Peru or travel to Bogotá, Colombia as originally planned.
Vice-President Mike Pence – who paid a previous visit to the region back in August, taking in Argentina, Colombia, Chile and Panama – will travel in his place. The summit is scheduled to begin this Friday, April 13.
"President Trump will not attend the 8th Summit of the Americas in Lima, Peru or travel to Bogota, Colombia as originally scheduled," Sanders said in a statement.
Trump "will remain in the United States to oversee the American response to Syria and to monitor developments around the world," she said, adding that Pence would also make the planned stop in Colombia.
Pence's Deputy Chief-of-Staff Jarrod Agen said in a statement that Pence is "honoured" to attend the summit, adding that last year he "travelled to the region to meet with the Presidents of Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Panama to increase the pressure against the [Nicolás] Maduro regime and negotiate better trade deals that benefit American workers."
President Mauricio Macri will also miss out on a crucial one-to-one he planned to hold with Trump. The Argentine leader was expected to discuss recent trade difficulties between the two nations, including recent decisions on limons, biodiesel, aluminium and steel.
The White House made the announcement about the schedule change a day after federal agents raided the office of Trump's personal attorney, Michael Cohen, a move the president was angered by.
Trump's new national security adviser, John Bolton, advocated that Trump stay in Washington in the aftermath of the attack in Syria, said one White House official.
Trump said Monday he would "forcefully" respond to an alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria and would soon decide how. He promised a decision on Syria within hours, declaring that Russia or any other nation found to share responsibility for Saturday's apparent chemical weapons attack on civilians will "pay a price."
The White House sharply rejected any suggestion that Trump's own words about pulling US troops out of Syria had opened the door for the attack, which killed more than 40 people, including children.
Trump, asked whether Russian President Vladimir Putin bore any responsibility, responded, "He may, yeah, he may. And if he does it's going to be very tough, very tough." He added, "Everybody's gonna pay a price. He will. Everybody will."
Amid the tough talk from the White House, the US military appeared to be in position to carry out any attack order. A Navy destroyer, the USS Donald Cook, was underway in the eastern Mediterranean after completing a port call in Cyprus. The guided missile destroyer is armed with Tomahawk cruise missiles, the weapon of choice in a US attack one year ago on an airfield in Syria following an alleged sarin gas attack on civilians.
The Russian military, which has a presence in Syria as a key Assad ally, said its officers had visited the weekend site in a suburb of Damascus, the Syrian capital, and found no evidence to back up reports of poison gas being used. Russia's UN ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, accused Washington of deliberately stoking international tensions by threatening Russia in a tone "beyond the threshold of what is acceptable, even during the Cold War."
Trump said there was little question that Syria was responsible for the apparent weekend attack, although the government of President Bashar al-Assad denied it. "To me there's not much of a doubt, but the generals will figure it out," Trump said.
He promised a decision on a possible military response within 24 to 48 hours, "probably by the end of today."
Emphatic in his condemnation of the apparent gas attack, Trump noted graphic pictures of the dead and sickened, calling the assault "heinous," ''atrocious," ''horrible" and "barbaric."