Kremlin lashes out at US ‘aggression’ against Syria, while Washington’s allies show support
Russian President Vladimir Putin believes that US cruise missile strikes on a Syrian airbase broke international law and have seriously hurt US-Russia relations, while French far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen accused US President Donald Trump of trying to be the “world’s policeman”. At the same time, Britain and other US allies rallied behind Washington, which said the strike was its response to a chemical weapon attack earlier in the week that it blames on the Syrian government.
Russia demanded an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss the attack.
Watch: Trump orders military strikes on Assad’s airbase in Syria
“We call upon the UN Security Council to hold an extraordinary meeting to discuss the situation,” the foreign ministry in Moscow said in a statement, calling the strike a “gross ... violation of international law.” The ministry also said it is suspending deal with US to prevent mid-air incidents over Syria in response to the attack.
Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov was cited as saying that the Russian leader, a staunch ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, regarded the US action as “aggression against a sovereign nation” on a “made-up pretext” and as a cynical attempt to distract the world from civilian deaths in Iraq.
Peskov was quoted as saying that Russia did not believe that Syria possessed chemical weapons and that the US move would inevitably create a serious obstacle to creating an international coalition to fight terrorism, an idea that Putin has repeatedly pushed.
But the head of the Russian parliament’s International Affairs committee said the attacks should not affect next week’s visit to Moscow by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, according to Russian media.
China said it is opposed to any use of chemical weapons, but its position remains unchanged that the Syrian civil war needs to be settled by “political means”.
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Beijing condemned the chemical weapons attack.
She said all sides should “exercise restraint” and avoid further escalation of the situation.
“What is urgent now is to avoid further deterioration of the situation,” she said.
Hua did not assign blame for the chemical attack and said China supports an independent investigation under the United Nations.
The US air strike came as Trump was hosting President Xi Jinping for their first face-to-face meeting in Florida.
Support for the Syria strike came from elsewhere.
Britain said it backed the US attack, a government spokesman said on Friday.
“The UK government fully supports the US action which we believe was an appropriate response to the barbaric chemical weapons attack launched by the Syrian regime and is intended to deter further attacks,” the spokesman said.
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said the strikes sent “a vitally important message” that the world will not tolerate the use of chemical weapons.
“The retribution has been proportionate and it has been swift,” he told reporters in Sydney. “We support the United States in that swift action.”
Turnbull said the military action was not designed to overthrow the Assad regime, though the reported use of chemical weapons did “raise questions as to whether there can be any role for Mr Assad in any solution or settlement”.
Saudi Arabia said Friday that it “fully backs” a US air strike.
“Saudi Arabia fully supports the US military operations against military targets in Syria, which were a response to the regime’s use of chemical weapons against innocent civilians,” a foreign ministry official told the state SPA news agency.
The official said the regime had only itself to blame after “odious crimes it had committed for years against the Syrian people”.
He described Trump as “courageous” for taking action when “the international community has failed to put a halt to the regime’s actions.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he supports the “strong and clear message” sent by a US strike in neighbouring Syria.
The Israeli military said it had been informed in advance of a massive cruise missile strike on a Syrian airbase, the first US operation against the Damascus government in six years of civil war.
“In both word and action, President Trump sent a strong and clear message today that the use and spread of chemical weapons will not be tolerated,” a statement from Netanyahu’s office said.
“Israel fully supports President Trump’s decision and hopes that this message of resolve in the face of the Assad regime’s horrific actions will resonate not only in Damascus, but in Tehran, Pyongyang and elsewhere.”
French President Francois Hollande said the US strikes were what France had been asking for in 2013 after a previous chemical attack.
But French far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen meanwhile, suggested the attack could backfire.
Le Pen has expressed support for Assad in the past, and said on France-2 television Friday that she was “surprised” by Trump’s sudden move, saying Trump indicated he would not make the US “the world’s policeman, and that’s exactly what he did yesterday”. She warned that past international interventions in Iraq and Libya have led to rising Islamic extremism.
German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said the US strike on a Syrian airbase was “understandable”.
“It was almost unbearable to see that the UN Security Council was not able to react clearly and unambiguously to the barbaric use of chemical weapons against innocent people in Syria,” Gabriel said. “It’s understandable that the United States have now reacted with an attack against the military structures of the Assad regime which caused this atrocious war crime.”
Turkey described the US air strike as a “positive” move and urged the international community to maintain its stance against the “barbarism” of Assad.
“We welcome this as positive but ... we believe that the Assad regime must be punished completely in the international arena,” Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus told Turkey’s Fox TV in an interview, quoted by state-run news agency Anadolu.
“The international community must maintain its stance clearly against this barbarism,” said Kurtulmus, who is also government spokesman.
“The Assad regime’s barbarism must be stopped at once,” Kurtulmus said, saying the peace process should hasten a “fair” and “lasting” peace for the people.
“I hope that this United States operation will contribute to securing peace.”
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe aid Japan “supports the resolve” of the US not to allow the proliferation or use of chemical weapons, following the missile strike.
“We understand that the action taken by the United States was a measure to prevent the situation from worsening further,” Abe told reporters after a meeting of the National Security Council.
Abe also said Japan “highly appreciates” the commitment of the administration of Trump’s administration to maintaining global order at a time when “the threat from weapons of mass destruction is also growing more serious in East Asia”.
Iran, however, denounced the strike, the Students News Agency ISNA quoted a Foreign Ministry spokesman as saying.
“Iran strongly condemns any such unilateral strikes ... Such measures will strengthen terrorists in Syria ... and will complicate the situation in Syria and the region,” ISNA quoted Bahram Qasemi as saying.
Indonesian also expressed concern over the “unilateral actions” by the US.
“Military actions, undertaken without prior authorisation of the UN Security Council, are not in line with international legal principles in the peaceful settlement of disputes as stipulated in the UN Charter,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Arramanatha Nasir told a media briefing.
“Indonesia strongly condemns the use of chemical weapons in Syria that has caused the loss of many innocent lives, including children,” Nasir said. “As a state party to the Chemical Weapons Convention, Indonesia rejects the use of chemical weapons by anyone for any purpose ... For Indonesia, peace and stability in Syria can only be achieved through dialogue and inclusive political process.”
Nasir said all parties must exercise restraint in the dialogue and continue to open humanitarian access to Syria.
A leading Syrian rebel group said the US attack was “not enough”, urging further action.
“Hitting one airbase is not enough, there are 26 airbases that target civilians,” a key figure in the Army of Islam faction, Mohamed Alloush, said on his Twitter account.
Other rebel groups welcomed the US strike and called for continued military action against the regime.
Associated Press, Agence France-Presse, Kyodo, Reuters