Global Reaction Mounts to US-Led Airstrikes in Syria
International reaction to joint U.S., French and British airstrikes Saturday against government targets in Syria ranged from support to intense criticism, depending largely on which countries the reaction came from.
The U.S. Department of Defense said the strikes targeted three sites believed to be linked to the production of chemical and biological weapons. The attacks were retaliation for suspected chemical attacks near Damascus last weekend that killed more than 40 people.
U.S. President Donald Trump commended Britain and France for the joint airstrikes.
“A perfectly executed strike last night,” Trump tweeted hours after the attack. “Thank you to France and the United Kingdom for their wisdom and the power of their fine Military. Could not have had a better result. Mission Accomplished!”
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said at an emergency meeting of the Security Council on Saturday that Trump had informed her the United States was “locked and loaded,” ready to respond if Syria used chemical weapons again.
Syria’s Foreign Ministry said, however, it “condemns in the strongest terms the brutal American-British-French aggression against Syria, which constitutes a flagrant violation of international law.”
Hundreds of Syrians gathered Saturday around Damascus, honking car horns, flashing victory signs and waving Syrian flags in defiance of the joint military strikes. Some shouted, “We are your men, Bashar,” references to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Russian President Vladimir Putin described the attacks as an “act of aggression against a sovereign government” and accused the U.S. of exacerbating the humanitarian crisis in war-torn Syria.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry said the airstrikes were a failure, maintaining the majority of the rockets fired had been intercepted by the Syrian government’s air defense systems.
Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said the attacks constituted a criminal act and that U.S., France and Britain would not benefit from them.
“This morning’s attack on Syria is a crime,” Khamenei said on Twitter. “I firmly declare that the Presidents of U.S. and France and British PM committed a major crime. They will gain no benefit; just as they did not while in Iraq, Syria & Afghanistan, over the past years, committing the same criminal acts.”
China’s Foreign Ministry called Saturday for an independent investigation into the suspected chemical attacks and said a political solution was the only way to resolve the issue. Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said China had consistently opposed the use of force in international relations and that any military action that circumvented the U.N. Security Council violated the basic norms of international law.
But British Prime Minister Theresa May said there was “no practicable alternative to the use of force” against Syria.
“I judge this action to be in Britain’s national interest,” May said. “We cannot allow the use of chemical weapons to be normalized within Syria, on the streets of the U.K., or anywhere else in the world. We would have preferred an alternative path but, on this occasion, there is none.”
In France, reaction has been mixed to President Emmanuel Macron’s decision to participate in the attacks against the Syrian regime.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Saturday that the joint military action was justified, limited, proportionate and successful.
“A large part of his chemical arsenal has been destroyed,” Le Drian told France’s BFMTV in an interview, referring to the Syrian leader.
Far-left and far-right lawmakers sharply criticized France’s decision to join the United States in the strikes.
Conservative National Front leader Marine Le Pen, who lost the 2017 presidential race to Macron, warned via Twitter that France risked its status as an “independent power” and said the strikes could lead to “unforeseen and potentially dramatic consequences.”
Far-left politician Jean-Luc Melenchon also denounced France’s participation on Twitter, calling the strikes an “irresponsible escalation” that did not have European or French parliament support.
Germany, Canada, Australia and Japan expressed support for the airstrikes. European Council President Donald Tusk said the bloc “will stand with our allies on the side of justice.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lauded the attacks by the U.S., Britain and France on Twitter as proof that “their commitment to combat chemical weapons is not limited to declarations alone.”
Netanyahu said in a written statement that the airstrikes should remind Assad that “his irresponsible efforts to acquire and use weapons of mass destruction, his blatant disregard for international law and his willingness to allow Iran and its affiliates to establish military bases in Syria endanger Syria.”
In Turkey, the airstrikes were also well-received.
“We welcome this operation which has eased humanity’s conscience in the face of the attack in Douma, largely suspected to have been carried out by the regime,” Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said. The ministry added that Syria “has a proven track record of crimes against humanity and war crimes.”
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said those who use chemical weapons “must be held accountable.”
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned all sides must comply with international law and not dismiss Moscow’s warning that airstrikes on its ally could lead to war.
“I urge all member states to show restraint in these dangerous circumstances and to avoid any acts that could escalate the situation and worsen the suffering of the Syrian people,” Guterres said in a statement.