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European Allies Offer Cautious Welcome to US Missile Strikes, Urge UN Action

  • Henry Ridgwell

U.S. allies in Europe offered a cautious welcome to the American missile strikes on a Syrian military base overnight Friday. The U.S. action was in response to a chemical weapons attack on a rebel-held town, which the West blames on the regime of Syrian President Bashar al Assad.

Washington acted alone in targeting Syria’s Shayrat air base, where it’s believed the aircraft were based that launched the chemical weapons attack. But key European allies offered Washington their backing.

“Faced with this first test of the slaughter of nearly a hundred people, including children, from a gas attack by the regime, the Trump administration has acted and we believe rightly and we fully support that action,” Britain’s Defense Secretary Michael Fallon said Friday.

Germany echoed those words of support.

"No one can say that no other roads were tried to prevent or to end the use of chemical weapons,” German Foreign Ministry Spokesman Sebastian Fischer told reporters.

"The attack of the United States is understandable given the dimension of the war crimes, given the suffering of innocent people, and given the blockage in the U.N. Security Council,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters.

Jean-Marc Ayrault, the French foreign minister, said the "use of chemical weapons is appalling and should be punished because it is a war crime."

Proportionate response

French President Francois Hollande suggested Washington’s response was proportionate.

"I consider this operation a response, which must now be pursued at the international level within the Framework of the United Nations,” he said in a television address Friday.

President Trump had previously backed away from the Obama administration's position that Bashar al-Assad must leave power. But the Trump administration abruptly shifted that position in recent days following the chemical weapons attack.

There is some nervousness in Europe over the apparent unpredictability of current US foreign policy.

“US policy in Syria, in particular military intervention, has an impact on key issues for Europe including both security when it comes to issues like terrorism, but certainly also migration. In this case we certainly don’t see a major escalation of US military intervention,” Jonathan Wood of analyst group Control Risks told VOA.

Syria’s ally Russia has rejected Western claims that President Assad’s regime carried out the chemical attack, and blames rebel fighters for the incident. Russian President Vladimir Putin called the attack an "aggression against a sovereign nation" on a "made-up pretext." The Kremlin said in a statement the U.S. action has inflicted "considerable damage" to already "lamentable" U.S.-Russia ties.

The air strikes against President Assad will impact the West’s already fractious relations with Moscow over its actions in Ukraine, says Jonathan Wood.

“We would not be surprised to see some continuation of the increased frequency of Russian snap military exercises in that region – certainly Russian posturing and even sabre-rattling in north-eastern Europe as a result of these strikes. But fundamentally they’re unlikely to result in a major change of the status quo in Europe.”

Analysts say US allies are waiting to see if this is a one-off attack, or the start of a longer military campaign against the Syrian government.

More reactions

Iran "strongly condemned" the U.S. strike, saying the "unilateral action is dangerous, destructive and violates the principles of international law."

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Ankara is ready to work with Washington in a more assertive policy towards the Syrian regime. He also criticized Moscow for its ongoing support of Damascus.

Saudi Arabia said in a statement Trump's move was a "courageous decision."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said "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."

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said his government supports the U.S. action as a means to "prevent further deterioration of the situation."

China's Foreign Ministry has called on all sides to stick to political settlements.

Dorian Jones and Edward Yeranian contributed to this report

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