USA says no decision yet on fresh Russian Federation sanctions

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DAMASCUS/THE HAGUE, April 16 (Reuters) - The United States accused Russia on Monday of blocking worldwide inspectors from reaching the site of a suspected poison gas attack in Syria and said Russians or Syrians may have tampered with evidence on the ground.

"We have not done this because President Trump asked us to, we have done it because we believed it was the right thing to do, and we are not alone".

Syrian state media said the attack also struck a scientific research facility in Damascus, which the Pentagon said was used to develop, produce and test chemical and biological weapons.

On CBS's "Face the Nation", Haley said the Treasury Department will announce the new sanctions and insisted the U.S. has sent "a strong message" about the use of chemical weapons.

She said, "You will see that Russian sanctions will be coming down".

Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke by phone with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, and they agreed the Western airstrikes were an "illegal action. adversely impacting prospects for political settlement in Syria", a Kremlin statement said.

It is not clear what has caused the apparent delay, but sanctions decisions are usually weeks if not months in the making. Meanwhile, French President Emmanuel Macron said he convinced President Trump not to withdraw USA troops from Syria, reversing Trump's pledge earlier this month that he would withdraw thousands of troops stationed there.

Relations between Moscow and Washington have recently moved at what US President Donald Trump has called its lowest point.

Western powers have traded threats and accusations with Russian Federation - the main backer of the Syrian regime - since launching missile strikes over the weekend to punish what they said was a chemical attack that killed dozens of civilians. "I think everyone knows that we sent a strong message, and our hope is that they listen to it". Russia, one top lawmaker promised, was going to "hit the Americans in the gut".

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A team with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons arrived in Damascus on Saturday at the invitation of the government to investigate the alleged chemical attack, which prompted US -led strikes against Syrian chemical weapons facilities over the weekend.

"It is our concern that they may have tampered with it with the intent of thwarting the efforts of the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission to conduct an effective investigation", he said.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov denied that Moscow had interfered with any evidence.

The Swedish delegation cited a briefing from OPCW director-general that said Syria and Russian Federation were concerned that security on the ground could not be guaranteed.

The agency said survivors blamed the attack on the Army of Islam, the powerful rebel group that controlled the town before it was taken over by Syrian government forces this week.

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Worldwide inspectors are trying to reach the site in Douma, near Damascus. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, said that images of victims of the purported attack were fakes staged with "Britain's direct involvement".

According to Hamilton 68, a website set up by researchers working with the Alliance for Securing Democracy, a transatlantic project set up to counter Russian disinformation campaigns - Syria is the leading hashtag on social media accounts identified as part of Russia-linked influence networks. Moscow warned against any strikes and threatened to retaliate.

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