President Donald Trump’s abrupt missile attack on Syria won immediate plaudits from U.S allies around the globe, some of whom had grown weary of former President Barack Obama’s reluctance to act forcefully against Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s bloody regime.
Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Britain, France and Israel all praised Thursday’s U.S. attack on a Syrian airfield, retaliation for Syria’s chemical weapons attack on Tuesday that killed 86 civilians in the Syrian town of Idlib. Washington’s allies characterized the strikes as a justifiable response to Syria’s use of chemical weapons, but they also emphasized the need to pursue a diplomatic strategy at the United Nations for ending the six-year-long conflict.
“The crimes the Syrian regime has committed against its own people cannot go unanswered,” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a statement from Ottawa. “Canada fully supports the United States’ limited and focused action to degrade the Assad regime’s ability to launch chemical weapons attacks against innocent civilians, including children.”
French President Francois Hollande and German chancellor Angela Merkel, issued a joint statement, saying that “Assad is wholly responsible” for provoking the U.S. strike. The two leaders said they were informed by the United State in advance of its intention to strike the The Shayrat airbase, which the U.S. alleges was used as a launching pad for the chemical attack on the town of Khan Sheikoun.
The expressions of support cames as the U.N. Security Council met today in an emergency session to debate the U.S. military intervention. During the meeting Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, characterized the missile attacks a “very measured step,” but warned that the U.S. could take more military action. “We are prepared to do more,” she added. “But we hope that will not be necessary.”
Despite expressions of sympathy for U.S. action from key allies, some council members voiced concern about the legality of U.S. action. “With regard to the US air strike,” said Sweden’s U.N. ambassador Olof Skoog, “Last night’s missile attack also does raise questions on its compatibility with international law.”
In Moscow, Russian officials denounced the U.S. intervention as an illegal provocation aimed at driving President Bashar al-Assad from power. “President Putin considers the American strikes against Syria an aggression against a sovereign government in violations of the norms of international law, and under a far-fetched pretext,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in Moscow Friday. Washington’s action, he added, “is causing significant damage to Russian-American relations, which are already in a deplorable state.” Russia also called for an emergency session of the U.N. Security Council.
President Donald Trump’s first foray into armed conflict against Syria’s Russian-backed leader, Bashar al-Assad, underscored the president’s willingness to change course quickly and make decisions about war and peace without a long deliberative process, a tendency that might keep allies — and potential foes — off balance. Still, some allies were nervous that U.S. strike might presage the U.S. deepening its military role in Syria.
Frederica Mogherini, the European Union’s Foreign Policy chief, expressed sympathy for the U.S. action, describing as an “understandable” response to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons. But she urged Washington to go back to the U.N. to pursue efforts to hold Syria accountable for its alleged crimes. “The EU firmly believes that there can be no military solution to the conflict,” she said.
Before Friday’s council meeting, U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres said he was “abhorred by the chemical weapons attack” and highlighted the need for accountability for such crimes. But he offered an implicit criticism of Washington’s attack on Syria without U.N. authorization, noting that any effort to hold perpetrators accountable should be taken “in line with existing international norms and Security Council resolutions.”
At the meeting, Russia’s U.N. envoy Vladimir Safronkov angrily denounced the United States, saying that the American missile strike constituted a flagrant violation of international law that has only raised the spirits of Syrian terrorist groups whom, he claimed, have been emboldened to step up attacks against Syrian government targets.
Haley fired back, saying that Assad used deadly chemical weapons against “innocent men, women and children” because he “knew he could get away with it….He knew Russia would have his back.”
The Trump administration insisted Friday that the strikes do not represent a major shift in American policy toward Syria or Assad. Shortly after the chemical weapons attack, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson suggested that Assad would have to step down from power at some stage, saying there “would be no role for him to govern the Syrian people.” But military officials, meanwhile, told FP this does not appear to be the start of a longer military campaign to drive Assad from power, and instead was a specific reaction to the chemical attack.
The U.S. attack was met with broad support on Capitol Hill, but an influential group of lawmakers also called for congressional approval if the campaign were to continue. “The President needs congressional authorization for military action,” said Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky. Senators will get a closed-door briefing on the strikes on Friday, in which administration officials will explain their rationale and outline what, if any, steps might be taken next.
Others questioned if the president had a long-term strategy in Syria. “We cannot stand by in silence as dictators murder children with chemical weapons,” said Reps. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) and Steve Russell (R-OK), in a joint statement. Both members are veterans of the Iraq war. “But military action without clear goals and objectives gets us nowhere.”
Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee added that he’s “encouraged” by the action to hold Assad accountable for his treatment of civilians, but remains “gravely concerned that the United States is engaging further militarily in Syria without a well-thought-out, comprehensive plan.”
On Friday, Moscow signaled it would ramp up its military support for the Assad regime, moving its most advanced ship in the Kremlin’s Black Sea fleet to Tartus, the Russian navy’s port in Syria. The ship is armed with long-range land attack Kalibr cruise missiles, and will take up position near the two American ships that carried out Thursday’s strikes, the USS Porter and USS Ross in the eastern Mediterranean.
Moscow is undertaking “a number of measures aimed at strengthening and improving the effectiveness of the Syrian air defense system” in Syria in order to protect Syrian infrastructure, a Kremlin official said. Moscow had already deployed S-300 and S-400 air defense systems to the country, but they did not fire at the incoming U.S. missiles on Thursday.
A U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad confirmed that Russia had initially pulled out of a “hotline” staffed by military officers from both countries, set up in 2015 to avoid misunderstandings in the crowded airspace over Syria. “We encourage it’s continued use,” said Col. John Dorrian, “and we will continue monitoring the situation in Syria.”
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