Tillerson: Russia must face consequences over nerve agent attack

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson cast the poisoning of an ex-spy in Britain as part of a "certain unleashing of activity" by Russia that the United States is struggling to understand. He warned that the poisoning would "certainly trigger a response."

Washington agrees with London that Russia was "likely responsible" for a nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy in Britain last week, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Monday, adding that Moscow must face "serious consequences."

"There is never a justification for this type of attack - the attempted murder of a private citizen on the soil of a sovereign nation - and we are outraged that Russia appears to have again engaged in such behaviour," Tillerson said in a statement.

The top US diplomat said he had spoken to British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson on Monday morning and that the US stood "in solidarity with our allies in the United Kingdom" and would "continue to coordinate closely our responses."

"We agree that those responsible - both those who committed the crime and those who ordered it - must face appropriately serious consequences," he said.

British Prime Minister Theresa May had earlier told parliament in London that experts had confirmed that the poison used on Sergei Skripal and his daughter was a "military-grade nerve agent developed by Russia."

She said her government had summoned the Russian ambassador and demanded an explanation of the presence of the Russian "Novichok"-type nerve agent, promising to discuss with parliament potential action against Moscow "should there be no credible response."

Her demand prompted Russia to hit back.

"This is a circus show in Britain's parliament," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said, according to state news agency TASS. London's response to the case was a "political media campaign based on provocation," Zakharova added.

Moscow has repeatedly denied involvement and accused Britain of peddling anti-Russia propaganda.

But May said there were only two possible reasons for the detection of the nerve agent: that it was used in "a direct action by the Russian state" or because of Russia "losing control" of its stocks of the poison.

Johnson demanded that the Russian ambassador respond by the end of Tuesday.

May said Britain had "led the way in securing tough sanctions against the Russian economy" in the past, working closely with its allies.

"We must now stand ready to take much more extensive measures."

She said her government plans to "consider in detail the response from the Russian state" on Wednesday.

"Should there be no credible response, we will conclude that this action amounts to an unlawful use of force by the Russian state against the United Kingdom," May said, adding that she would then return to parliament to "set out the full range of measures that we will take in response."

She said the poisoning of the Skripals was "an indiscriminate and reckless act against the United Kingdom, putting the lives of innocent civilians at risk."

"And we will not tolerate such a brazen attempt to murder innocent civilians on our soil," she added.

Asked by the BBC about possible Russian involvement on Monday, before May's speech, President Vladimir Putin said Britain should "first get things clear yourselves, and after that we will discuss this with you."

Hundreds of police officers, aided by military personnel, are investigating the poisoning of former Russian intelligence officer Skripal, who spied for Britain, and his daughter Yulia in the city of Salisbury.

Former Russian double agent Boris Karpichkov told broadcaster ITV on Monday that he was warned by telephone last month that "something bad" would happen to him and other former Russian agents in Britain, including Skripal.

Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33, remain in critical conditions in hospital.

Many observers have likened their case to the poisoning of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko in 2006.

Litvinenko died after drinking tea laced with a radioactive isotope. A British inquiry concluded that he was targeted for assassination by Russian agents.

The White House had initially offered the "fullest condemnation" of the poisoning following May's comments to parliament, but made no mention of Russia.

Asked in a press briefing if President Donald Trump would consider sanctions to punish Russia, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said that the use of a deadly nerve toxin on British soil was "an outrage... reckless, indiscriminate and irresponsible."

Repeatedly asked specifically about Russia, she emphasized solidarity with Britain as "our closest ally."

"I think they're still working through even some of the details of that," Sanders said. "And we're going to continue to work with the UK, and we certainly stand with them throughout this process."

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