Ash Carter urges more U.S. sanctions on Russia after apparent chemical attack in Syria

Ash Carter on Syria, Russia, N. Korea

Last Updated Apr 6, 2017 2:22 PM EDT

Former Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Thursday that the Trump administration should impose additional sanctions against Russia for enabling the Syrian regime in the country’s ongoing civil war, following an apparent chemical attack this week that has left more than 72 people dead.

In an interview on “CBS This Morning,” Carter was asked how the U.S. should respond to the attack.

“For one thing, right now, I think that additional sanctions on Russia -- which a number on [Capitol] Hill are calling for -- is appropriate. The Russians have responsibility for this and they didn’t do what they said they were going to do,” Carter said.

Carter clarified that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government was responsible for the attack itself -- not the Russians -- but he said that the Kremlin has enabled Assad’s government. Carter, who served as defense secretary during the last two years of the Obama administration, said that Russia had said that it would facilitate a political transition in which Assad would be moved out, the structures of the Syrian state and its basics of governing remain and the Syrian opposition would become part of the government.

“They didn’t do that,” Carter said. “Instead, they fueled the civil war.”

Just a few days before the attack, the Trump administration signaled that it was abandoning the U.S. policy of pressuring Assad to leave power. Carter was asked if he thinks that sent a message to Assad that permitted him to carry out the attack.

“I can’t say that,” Carter said. “This is Assad’s responsibility. I think it is important for us to have clarity about our policy and consistency in the annunciation of our policy.”

On the nuclear threat posed by North Korea following its latest missile test, Carter was asked if he believed North Korea has the capacity to now deliver a nuclear weapon to the U.S. coast.

“I believe that they are intent upon getting there,” he said.

Carter said that the U.S. has to remain “one step ahead of them,” which he said it has done by improving the missile defenses of U.S. territory. He also said he’d like to see the Chinese turn the North Koreans around. But if it came to a war emerging on the Korean peninsula, Carter said that the 28,000 U.S. troops there are ready.

“They are ready and if the war came to the Korean peninsula, first of all, I’m confident that we would win,” Carter said. “We would destroy North Korea’s military and destroy the North Koreans’ regime.”

Carter is joining Harvard University’s Kennedy School as director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.

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    Rebecca Shabad

    Rebecca Shabad is a video reporter for CBS News Digital.