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The Latest: Mattis says Islamic State still focus in Syria

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, joined by Gen. Joseph Votel, speaks during a news conference at the Pentagon, Tuesday, April 11, 2017. Mattis said the campaign against the Islamic State group is still the main focus of the U.S. in Syria and remains on track. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Latest on U.S. response to recent chemical weapons attack in Syria (all times local):

3:55 p.m.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis says the campaign against the Islamic State group is still the main focus of the U.S. in Syria and remains on track.

He says the bombing of the Syrian air field Thursday in retaliation for the government’s use of chemical weapons against innocent civilians was a separate issue in the military campaign.

Mattis says he reviewed intelligence about the April 5 chemical weapons attack and says he has no doubt the Syrian regime was responsible for the bombing’s planning and execution.

He says the Syrian regime should “think long and hard” before making such a reckless attack again. He says the U.S. can’t get involved in Syria’s civil war, but couldn’t allow the use of chemical weapons.

More than 80 civilians were killed in the attack.

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3:45 p.m.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis says U.S.-Russian tensions over Syria “will not spiral out of control.”

Mattis says the U.S. and Russia are maintaining military and diplomatic communications.

He noted that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was in Moscow Tuesday.

Mattis says Russia acts in its interests.

And he says there is no Russian interest in allowing the current disagreements over Syria to lead to a broader confrontation.

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3:40 p.m.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis says only Syrian President Bashar Assad knows why he used chemical weapons.

Mattis says he trusts Assad regrets last week’s chemical weapons attack, given the U.S. retaliatory strikes.

The Pentagon says the cruise missiles it launched at Syrian air base destroyed a fifth of Assad’s functioning, fixed-wing combat aircraft.

Mattis criticized Assad for using chemical weapons several times over the last several years.

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2:20 p.m.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer says that President Donald Trump’s oldest daughter weighed in on his response to the Syrian chemical weapons attack.

Spicer says at his daily press briefing that “there is no question that” Ivanka Trump and others “weighed into him” on the decision.

The president’s son, Eric Trump, told The Daily Telegraph in an interview that the president had been influenced by his sister’s reaction to the gas attack that killed dozens last week.

Eric Trump said his sister was “heartbroken and outraged” by the attack.

Spicer said the feeling was widespread that the attack was “horrific” and “required action.”

The president’s daughter recently began an official role at the White House.

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1:40 p.m.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is meeting with staffers who work at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. The meeting is taking place privately.

Tillerson is in Moscow for talks with Russian officials. He arrived earlier Tuesday to meet with Russian officials about the Syria civil war.

It’s the first official trip to Russia by a member of President Donald Trump’s Cabinet.

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11:55 a.m.

U.S. Senator John McCain says stopping Syrian President Bashar Assad’s “murderous rampage” does not preclude America from fighting the Islamic State group.

At a press conference in Sarajevo, the Republican senator said the U.S. “is the most powerful nation on earth” and “can do both at the same time.”

McCain said Assad is “a war criminal and must go.” He said the “needless and senseless slaughter of innocent men, women and children is an obligation for all of us,” including Russia, to stop.

McCain is on a tour of the western Balkans, the war-weary European region where Russia has been vying for increased military, political and economic influence.

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10:40 a.m.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin says Washington’s accusations against the Syrian government over a chemical attack resemble the claims made before the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003.

Putin, speaking Tuesday after talks in Moscow with Italian President Sergio Mattarella, said the U.S. invaded Iraq based on false allegations that it had chemical weapons.

He says the U.S. missile strikes on a Syrian air base following accusations that Syria’s government’s used chemical weapons that killed dozens of people last week “strongly resembles the developments of 2003.”

Putin added that some in the West are using Syria to cast Russia as a “common enemy.”

Russia has argued that civilians in Khan Sheikhoun were exposed to toxic agents from a militants’ arsenal hit by a Syrian air strike. Putin says militants are preparing more “provocations” to blame Damascus.

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10 a.m.

A grass fire that broke out next to the Moscow airport where U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was due to arrive has been extinguished.

The emergency situations ministry said on Tuesday about 100 square meters of grass caught fire just outside the Vnukovo airport before Tillerson’s plane landed.

Live footage from the scene showed tall clouds of black smoke billowing just over the tarmac.

Tillerson is in Moscow to meet with Russian officials about the civil war in Syria.

The airport said in a separate statement that the fire was outside the airport and it didn’t affect its operations.

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9:40 a.m.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has arrived in Moscow to meet with Russian officials about the Syria civil war.

It’s the first official trip to Russia by a member of President Donald Trump’s Cabinet.

Russia has been incensed by U.S. allegations of complicity in Syrian President Bashar Assad’s use of chemical weapons. The U.S. increased the pressure Monday when a senior official said the U.S. has made a preliminary conclusion that Russia knew in advance of Syria’s chemical weapons attack last week.

The visit also comes amid an FBI investigation into whether Russia potentially colluded with Trump’s campaign to influence the U.S. election.

Tillerson plans to meet Wednesday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. It’s unclear whether he will also meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

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9:10 a.m.

Russia’s General Staff says the Syrian government is willing to let international experts to examine its military base for signs of chemical weapons.

The United States on Friday carry out an airstrike on the Shayrat air base which is believed to have been used for last week’s chemical weapons attack in the Idlib province.

Col. Gen. Sergei Rudskoy of the Russian General Staff said in televised remarks on Tuesday that the Syrian government is ready to let international experts to examine the base and that Russia will provide security for them.

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8:50 a.m.

President Vladimir Putin says Russia will appeal to the United Nations to investigate last week’s chemical attack in Syria.

Moscow has dismissed suggestions that the Syrian government that it backs could be behind the attack in Idlib province.

Putin told reporters on Tuesday that Russia would appeal to a U.N. agency in the Hague, urging it to hold an official probe.

Putin also said Russia has received intelligence about planned “provocations” using chemical weapons that would put the blame on the Syrian government.

Russia has defended Bashar Assad’s government which has been accused of launching a chemical weapons attack on the Idlib province.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is to meet U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Wednesday.

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7 a.m.

Russia’s foreign ministry says it hopes for “productive talks” with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, as Tillerson heads to Moscow in his first visit to Russia as the top U.S. diplomat.

The ministry said in a three-page statement issued ahead of Tillerson’s arrival later on Tuesday that the outcome of the talks is important not only for the Russia-U.S. ties but “for the overall atmosphere on the world stage.”

Tillerson is traveling to Russia several days after a chemical attack in Syria and a U.S. air strike on a Syrian government base that Moscow on Tuesday dismissed as “an act of aggression.” Moscow is a staunch ally of President Bashar Assad whom the United States blamed for the chemical attack.

Tillerson said Tuesday that Russia must choose between aligning itself with the U.S. or with Assad and Iran.

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6:30 a.m.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says Russia must choose between aligning itself with the U.S. and likeminded countries or embracing Syrian President Bashar Assad, Iran and the militant group Hezbollah.

Tillerson says it’s unclear whether Russia failed to take seriously its obligations in Syria or has been incompetent. But he says that distinction “doesn’t much matter to the dead.”

He says of the recent chemical attack: “We cannot let this happen again.”

Tillerson says the U.S. sees no future role for Assad in Syria, but he says the U.S. isn’t pre-supposing how Assad’s departure will occur.

Tillerson traveled Tuesday to Moscow. He says Russia can play a role in Syria’s future but that aligning with Assad won’t serve Russia’s long-term interests.

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The entry timed 8:50 a.m. has been corrected to say that Tillerson is meeting Lavrov on Wednesday, not Putin.

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