Donald Trump has said he would accept that Russia was behind the Salisbury poisoning if Theresa May tells him so, but left open the possibility he would decide to ignore the UK’s conclusions.
“As soon as we get the facts straight, if we agree with them, we will condemn Russia or whoever it may be,” he told reporters on Tuesday afternoon.
The US President was speaking moments after he dramatically and unexpectedly sacked US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson using Twitter.
Trump said: “Well it sounds to me, I am speaking to Theresa May today. It sounds to me like it would be Russia, based on all of the evidence they have. I don’t know if they have come to a conclusion but she is calling me today.
“It sounds to me like they believe it was Russia and I would certainly take that finding as fact.”
Just a day ago, Tillerson made a statement holding Russia responsible for the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, putting him at odds with the White House, which did not single out Russia.
May has given Moscow until midnight to come up with with a “credible” explanation as to what happened.
The prime minister has said if this is not forthcoming, the British government would conclude the attack was an unlawful “use of force” against the UK by Russia.
May is expected to update the Commons with her next steps during prime minister’s questions on Wednesday.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is demanding access to samples of the nerve agent the UK has said was used in the attempted murder.
He told reporters this morning that Russia was “not to blame” for the attempted murder of the pair who are still fighting for their lives.
Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey - who fell seriously ill after tending to Skripal and Yulia - also remains in hospital.
Ahmet Uzumcu, the Director-General of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, said this morning those responsible for the use of the Novichok nerve agent “must be held accountable for their actions”.
Among the options open to the UK and urged by some in government are extra deployments of troops in Nato states bordering Russia, the expulsion of the Russian ambassador in London and fresh curbs on Russian finance in the UK.
What Is Novichok?
Novichok was developed by the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 80s and is said to be ten times stronger than other agents.
May confirmed in the Commons it is banned under international conventions.
Experts suggest Novichok, which means “newcomer” in Russian, is the deadliest nerve agent ever produced – designed to mask itself from NATO detection equipment and chemical protective gear and developed in secret to dodge international treaties.
Over the weekend, reports suggested police had already ruled out both VX, developed by Britain in the 1950s, and Sarin, developed by Germany in the 1930s.
It left Novichok, said to be up to ten times stronger than VX, the most likely agent to have been deployed.
Novichok became notorious in the 1990s when a Soviet scientist called Vil Mirzayanov was put on trial for revealing its existence.
In an interview with the New York Times, Mirzayanov spoke of how it was far more potent than anything in the US - and that it was so secret it didn’t become known for as much as a decade after it was actually available.