Syria Allies Russia and Iran Denounce U.S. Missile Strikes on Syrian Base

Saudi Arabia, Turkey and others express support for American attack on Syrian air base in response to deadly chemical weapons attack on rebel-held town

Russian President Vladimir Putin at a meeting with Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko in St. Petersburg, Russia, April 3, 2017.
Dmitri Lovetsky/AP

Iran and Russia, both staunch allies of Syrian President Bashar Assad, harshly criticized the U.S. missile strikes against a Syrian airbase from which a deadly chemical weapons attack was launched.

A Syrian state news agency said that the U.S. missile attack killed nine civilians, including four children, in areas near the base. The Syrian army reported extensive damage. In a statement, it described the attack  as an act of "blatant aggression," saying it had made the United States "a partner" of Islamic State, the Nusra Front and other "terrorist organisations." 

Iran on Friday denounced the strikes, in which two U.S. warships fired dozens of cruise missiles at an Assad-controlled airbase, as "destructive and dangerous," the Students News Agency ISNA quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman as saying. 

"Iran ... condemns use of chemical weapons ... but at the same time believes it is dangerous, destructive and violation of international laws to use it as an excuse to take unilateral actions," ISNA quoted Bahram Qasemi 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."

The missile strikes came in response to a suspected chemical weapons attack on Khan Sheikhoun, a town held by Syrian rebels.

Tehran, Assad's main regional ally, has provided military and economic support to his fight against rebel groups and Islamic State militants. 

Iran says it has military advisers and volunteers in Syria but denies having a conventional force on the ground.

The Kremlin said that Russian President Vladimir Putin believes the attack broke international law and seriously hurt U.S.-Russia relations.

Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that the Russian leader regarded the U.S. action as "aggression against a sovereign nation" on a "made-up pretext" and a cynical attempt to distract the world from civilian deaths in Iraq, news agencies reported.

Peskov was quoted as saying that Russia did not believe that Syria possessed chemical weapons and that the U.S. move would inevitably create a serious obstacle to creating an international coalition to fight terrorism, an idea that Putin has repeatedly pushed.

Calling the action "thoughtless," the Russian Foreign Ministry called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss the strikes.
The ministry said in a statement that Russia was also suspending a Syrian air safety agreement with the United States, saying: "This is not the first time the United States has resorted to such a thoughtless step, which merely exacerbates existing problems and threatens global security."

The Israeli Prime Minister's Office released a statement praising the strikes, saying U.S. President Donald Trump sent a strong message that the use and distribution of chemical weapons won't be tolerated.

The Prime Minister's Office added that Israel hopes Trump's powerful message against the Assad regime will be heard not only in Damascus, but also in Tehran and Pyongyang.

Turkey views strikes positively and the international community should sustain its stance against the "barbarity" of the Syrian government, Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said on Friday.

President Tayyip Erdogan's spokesman said on Friday it was necessary to enforce a no-fly zone and create safe zones in Syria without delay. He called the missile strikes a positive response to "war crimes."

"The destruction of Sharyat airbase marks an important step to ensure that chemical and conventional attacks against the civilian population do not go unpunished," spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said in a written statement. 

In an interview with Turkish broadcaster Fox TV, Kurtulmus said that the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad must be fully punished in the international arena and that the peace process in Syria needed to be accelerated.

Saudi Arabia said it "fully supports" the American attack in Syria, saying it was a "courageous decision" by Trump in response to the use of chemical weapons against civilians.

"A responsible source at the foreign ministry expressed the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia's full support for the American military operations on military targets in Syria, which came as a response to the Syrian regime's use of chemical weapons against innocent civilians...," a statement carried by state news agency SPA said.

The statement praised what it described as "the courageous decision" by Trump and said it holds Assad's government responsible for the military strikes.

China condemned the deadly chemical weapons attack in Syria and said it supports an independent investigation under the United Nations.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Friday that China opposed the use of chemical weapons by any party under any circumstances.

However, Hua did not assign blame for the attack that killed more than 80 people or mention Syrian leader Bashar Assad.

China has sided with Russia at the United Nations in opposing condemnation of Assad's regime but has not become directly involved in the conflict.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said on Friday that the United States informed France before its missile strikes on Syrian military positions.

"I was told by [U.S. Secretary of State] Rex Tillerson during the night," Ayrault told Reuters and France Info radio in the Mauritanian capital, Nouakchott, where he was on a diplomatic visit.

Ayrault called the escalation of the U.S. military role in Syria "a warning" to "a criminal regime."

"Use of chemical weapons is appalling and should be punished because it is a war crime," Ayrault said, adding that Russia and Iran needed to understand that supporting Assad made no sense, and that France was not seeking a confrontation with those two countries.

Ayrault added that France's only role in Syria at present was its part in the coalition fighting Islamic State.

Britain fully backs the American strikes on the airfield, a government spokesman said on Friday.

"The U.K. Government fully supports the U.S. 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.