On April 6, U.S. President Donald J. Trump announced that the United States had carried out a missile strike on a Syrian air base in response to a chemical attack by the Syrian government, which killed nearly 80 civilians on April 4.
Trump said the strike was in the “vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons.”
Trump had been critical of former president Barack Obama for failing to enforce red lines with regard to the use of chemical weapons by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. He called Assad’s use of sarin gas – a toxin only available on the regime on civilians “an affront to humanity” that “could not be tolerated.”
While the White House had recently expressed that the United States would accept the “political reality” of Assad’s grip on power, Trump later said the chemical weapons attack “crosses many, many lines.”
World leaders have been divided in their reactions to the U.S. strike. While Russia and Iran, supporters of Assad’s regime, have condemned the strikes, U.S. allies across Europe have lauded Trump’s proactive approach to the conflict and intolerance of chemical weapon attacks on civilians. Both multilateral institutions such as the European Union and NATO, as well as individual nations, have also expressed their support for Washington and condemnation of Assad’s actions.
Here’s a look at what they have had to say:
European Union President Donald Tusk tweeted: “US strikes show needed resolve against barbaric chemical attacks. EU will work with the US to end brutality in Syria.”
However, U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres called for restraint. “Mindful of the risk of escalation, I appeal for restraint to avoid any acts that could deepen the suffering of the Syrian people,” he said.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said, “The U.S. has informed the E.U. that these strikes were limited and seek to deter further chemical weapons atrocities. The repeated use of such weapons must be answered.”
According to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, “the Syrian regime bears the full responsibility for this development.” He added: “Any use of chemical weapons is unacceptable, cannot go unanswered, and those responsible must be held accountable.”
In an interview with the BBC, U.K. Secretary of Defense Michael Fallon affirmed that London “fully supports” the “wholly appropriate” U.S. airstrike in Syria. He said the strike does not constitute a U.S. declaration of war on Syria: “The Americans have made it very clear the attack last night was limited, was narrowly focused, they did everything possible to minimize Syrian casualties, indeed to involve Russian personnel on that particular airfield.”
Fallon said the U.K. government had “advance notice of the president’s final decision,” but was not asked to take part.
While praising the U.S. strike, Fallon urged Russia to take a similar stance, adding: “It is Russia that has the influence over the regime that could bring this war to a halt if they chose to do so and I hope will learn from what happened last night and use its influence against Assad to bring this slaughter to a stop.”
France and Germany
French President François Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel delivered a joint statement in response to the strike, calling for sanctions. Like Stoltenberg, they said: “President Assad alone bears the responsibility for this development. His repeated use of chemical weapons and his crimes against his own people demand sanctions which France and Germany already asked for in the summer of 2013 after the massacre at Ghouta.”
Merkel issued another, separate statement, saying: “This attack by the United States of America is understandable, given the aspect of the war crimes, given the suffering of innocent people and given the logjam in the U.N. Security Council.”
According to Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, “President Trump sent a strong and clear message today that the use and spread of chemical weapons will not be tolerated.” He added: “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.”
Leaders from Riyadh, who have pushed for the overthrow of Assad, expressed their “full support … for the American military operations on military targets in Syria.” The Saudi Foreign Ministry issued a statement which noted “the courageous decision of US President Donald Trump, which represents a response to crimes this regime has committed towards its people in light of the inaction of the international community in stopping it in its tracks.”
Mohammad Momani, a spokesperson for the Jordanian government, called the strike “a necessary and appropriate response to the non-stop targeting of innocent civilians.”
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said: “We welcome the U.S. operation,” and called the airstrikes “a positive response to the Assad regime’s war crimes.”
Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman for the Chinese foreign ministry, delivered a more measured response, saying: “China always opposes the use of force in international affairs and we advocate resolving disputes peacefully through dialogues… We always hold that the Syrian issue should be resolved through political means.”
“We oppose use of chemical weapons by any country, organization or individual in any circumstance, for any purpose,” she said, adding, “what is urgent now is to avoid further deterioration of the situation.” Chinese President Xi Jinping is currently meeting with Trump at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said: “We understand the U.S. government’s strikes this time are to oppose the spread and use of chemical weapons.”
Australian Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull said: “The Australian government strongly supports the swift and just response of the United States.” He said “this was a calibrated, proportionate and targeted response. It sends a strong message to the Assad regime.”
The U.S. strikes were “a motivated response to a war crime” by the Assad regime that “should accelerate the chance of political negotiations for a long-lasting solution” to the Syrian civil war, said Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni.
Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano also issued a statement saying: “Italy understands the reasons for a U.S. military action, proportionate and well-timed, as a response to an unacceptable feeling of impunity, and as a deterrence signal against the risk of further use of chemical weapons by Assad.”
A statement by the Spanish government affirmed their support for U.S. actions: “The Spanish government considers that the action taken by the United States in recent hours against a military base in Syria is a measured and proportionate response to the use of chemical weapons against the civil population of the country by the Syrian army.”
Polish President Andrzej Duda issued a statement saying: “President Donald Trump’s decision to attack one of the Syrian air bases was a reaction to the use by Assad’s military regime of chemical weapons against civilians. The civilized world could not be indifferent to this act of unimaginable barbarity.”
U.S. lawmakers have issued a variety of responses to the airstrike. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), praised the U.S. military for its courage. Meanwhile, Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) and Rep. Steve Russell (R-Okla.), both veterans of the U.S. war in Iraq, issued a bipartisan statement on the strike.
“We cannot stand by in silence as dictators murder children with chemical weapons. But military action without clear goals and objectives gets us nowhere. We look forward to hearing the president present a plan for Syria to the American people, for Congress to agree on bipartisan action, and for America to partner with the world community to help bring this treacherous conflict to an end,” they said.
Syria, Russia and Iran predictably criticized the missile strikes.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad condemned the strikes, which reports say killed six Syrian civilians, saying: “What America did is nothing but foolish and irresponsible behavior, which only reveals its short-sightedness and political and military blindness to reality.”
Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, delivered a statement which added to Assad’s criticism of U.S. military action, calling the strike “an act of aggression against a sovereign state delivered in violation of international law under a far-fetched pretext.”
He added that the strike “dealt a serious blow to Russian-U.S. relations, which are already in a poor state.” Trump has consistently expressed a desire to improve Washington’s relationship with Moscow, and Syria had always posed a point of contention, but also potential cooperation in the fight against terror for the two nations.
Tehran echoed its allies’ sentiments; a spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry said: “Iran strongly condemns any such unilateral strikes… such measures will strengthen terrorists in Syria… and will complicate the situation in Syria and the region.”
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