Russia and Iran rebuke US for missile threat against Syria amid standoff over attack

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A spokesman for the Russian president has dismissed Trump’s “Twitter-diplomacy” in a call for caution. The White House insists that “all options are on the table.”

Russia and Iran hit back against US President Donald Trump on Wednesday after the president said the US would launch missile strikes against the Syrian government in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack.

“We do not take part in Twitter-diplomacy,” Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. “We support serious approaches … we believe it is important not to take steps that could damage an already fragile situation.”

Trump earlier wrote in a Twitter post: “Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and ‘smart!’ You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!”

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said the US holds Russia and Syria responsible for the suspected chemical attack. But she added that military action had not been decided upon with “all options on the table.”

Russia’s defense ministry also criticized Trump for the threat: “Instead of talking about the [US-led] coalition’s readiness to fire missiles at Syria, the United States would do better to rebuild the destroyed [Syrian] city [of Raqqa] and provide wide-ranging help to its suffering population.”

The ministry added it was closely watching a US naval strike force currently on its way to the sea off Syria’s western coastline.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel stopped short of pointing any blame at Russia directly and refused to be drawn on a potential military strike against Syrian government troops, saying: “I do not want to speculate.”

Tehran, Turkey chime in

A top official in Iran, which also backs Syrian President Bashar Assad, said his country would defend its ally against “foreign aggression.”

“We will stand by Syria’s government against any foreign aggression … Iran backs Syria in its fight against America and the Zionist Regime [Israel],” Ali Akbar Velayati, a top advisor to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, told Iranian state television.

The prime minister of Turkey, which has occupied parts of northern Syria and is a US NATO ally, called for calm in response to Trump’s Twitter post.

“They are fighting like street bullies … The time is not one for competing,” Binali Yildirim said, adding: “It is time to heal the wounds of the region.”

Attack ‘cannot go unchallenged’

The US has been consulting with France and Britain over a military response to Saturday’s alleged chemical weapons attack.

British Prime Minister Theresa May said on Wednesday “all the indications” showed the Syrian government was responsible for the attack in Douma that killed more than 40 people. The “continued use of chemical weapons cannot go unchallenged,” she added.

US Defense Secretary James Mattis said Washington was “still assessing the intelligence” on the attack, but added that the US stood “ready to provide military options” if needed.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres emphasized the need to prevent the situation in Syria from “spiraling out of control.”

Emergency meeting

Russia and Syria have denied any chemical attack took place. Moscow has invited investigators from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to investigate the scene where the attack allegedly took place.

Syria has also accused the US of using the allegation against it as a pretext for another military strike. The US launched a missile strike against a Syrian airbase in April 2017 after a previous chemical weapons attack.

The OPCW is set to hold an emergency meeting on Monday to discuss the incident.

Europe’s air traffic control agency, Eurocontrol, has warned airlines of the heightened risk to aircraft in the eastern Mediterranean due to possible air strike launches in the next three days.

amp/jm (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)

 

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