EU heavyweights side with Trump following US Syria strike

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Hollande were united in wanting to hold the Syrian regime to account. [European Council]

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President François Hollande spoke about the situation in Syria today (7 April) and want to continue efforts to hold Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to account for “criminal acts”, a statement from Berlin said.

The United States early on Friday fired dozens of cruise missiles at a Syrian airbase from which it said a chemical weapons attack was launched this week.

Trump orders toughest US military action in six-year Syria war

US President Donald Trump said on Thursday (6 April) that he ordered missile strikes against a Syrian airfield from which a deadly chemical weapons attack was launched, declaring he acted in America’s “national security interest” against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

“President Assad alone is responsible for this development,” the German government said in a statement after the French and German leaders spoke by phone on Friday morning.

It said Assad’s repeated use of chemical weapons and crimes against the Syrian people should result in sanctions.

“Germany and France call on the international community… to campaign together for a political transition in Syria,” Germany said in the statement.

Council President Donald Tusk also tweeted in approval of the US strike. “US strikes show needed resolve against barbaric chemical attacks. EU will work with the US to end brutality in Syria,” he said.

The Commission released a statement by President Jean-Claude Juncker on the situation in Syria which sounds less supportive of the US action. Juncker said the US informed the EU that these strikes were limited and seek to deter further chemical weapons atrocities.

“President Juncker has been unequivocal in his condemnation of the use of chemical weapons. The repeated use of such weapons must be answered. He understands efforts to deter further attacks. There is a clear distinction between air strikes on military targets and the use of chemical weapons against civilians”, the statement reads.

Maja Kocijančić, spokesperson of EU’s foreign affairs chief, said that the US informed the EU that they launched the strike based on their assessment that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons.

Asked by euractiv.com if the EU has an assessment of its own regarding chemical weapons, Kocijančić skirted around answering the question.

The spokesperson also avoided directly answering if Syrian strongman al-Assad has a future in a negotiated political solution to the Syria conflict.

She cited the conclusions of a 3 April meeting of EU foreign ministers, which say that there can be no lasting peace in Syria under the current regime.

Russian President Vladimir Putin condemned the US strikes on Syria as illegal, warning the move would further damage already battered US-Russia relations which Moscow had hoped President Donald Trump would revive.

“President Putin views the US strikes on Syria as aggression against a sovereign state in violation of the norms of international law and on a made-up up pretext,” said a Kremlin statement.

“This step by Washington will inflict major damage on US-Russia ties.”

The US military gave Russian forces advanced notice of its strikes on a Syrian airbase and did not hit sections of the base where the Russians were believed to be present

Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, told reporters the US strikes had been conducted to help rebel groups fighting Assad.

Russia would keep military channels of communication open with Washington, but would not exchange any information through them, he added.

When asked whether Russia had deactivated its own anti-missile defense systems in Syria before the missile strike, Peskov declined to comment.

Reportedly Russia has advanced anti-missile systems in Syria, but there were no reports of Tomahawk missiles being brought down.

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