Western powers have no plans for further missile strikes on Syria but will assess their options if Damascus uses chemical weapons again, Britain’s Foreign Minister says, as debate rages over the legality and effectiveness of the strikes.
- It is unclear when the Syrian President’s visit to Russia will take place
- British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson says there is currently “no proposal” of further attacks
- British Opposition Leader Jeremy Corbyn has questioned the legal basis for the strikes
US, French and British missile attacks struck at the heart of Syria’s chemical weapons program on Saturday in retaliation for a suspected poison gas attack a week ago, and the three countries insisted they were not aimed at toppling President Bashar al-Assad or intervening in a seven-year civil war.
The bombings, hailed by US President Donald Trump as a success but denounced by Damascus and its allies as an act of aggression, marked the biggest intervention by Western countries against Mr Assad and his ally Russia.
British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson defended Prime Minister Theresa May’s decision to take part in the attack, saying it was to deter further use of chemical weapons.
“This is not about regime change. This is not about trying to turn the tide of the conflict in Syria,” he told the BBC.
“There is no proposal on the table at the moment for further attacks because so far, thank heavens, the Assad regime have not been so foolish as to launch another chemical weapons attack.
“If and when such a thing were to happen, then clearly with allies we would study what the options were.”
Mr Johnson’s comments echoed those of US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, who told an emergency Security Council meeting that Mr Trump told her that if Syria uses poisonous gas again, “the United States is locked and loaded”.
Asked if this meant Mr Assad could carry on using barrel bombs and other means in the war provided he did not use chemical weapons, Mr Johnson said that was the “unhappy” consequence.
Mr Assad was determined “to butcher his way” to an overwhelming victory and only the Russians could pressure him to come to the negotiating table in Geneva, Mr Johnson said.
British Opposition Leader Jeremy Corbyn said the legal basis used to support the British role was debatable, adding that he would only support action backed by the UN Security Council.
“I say to the foreign secretary, I say to the Prime Minister, where is the legal basis for this?” Mr Corbyn said in an interview with the BBC.
The Western countries blame Mr Assad’s Government for a suspected poison gas attack in Douma on April 7 that killed up to 75 people.
Russia, whose ties with the West have sunk to levels of the Cold War-era, denies any gas attack in Douma and said Britain staged it to whip up anti-Russian hysteria.
Strikes an act of aggression says Syria, Russia
Mr Assad told a group of Russian politicians that Western missile strikes on his country were an act of aggression, according to Russian news agencies.
Russia, which is helping the Syrian President fight rebel forces opposed to his rule, immediately condemned the strikes and called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council.
“From the point of view of the President, this was aggression and we share this position,” Russia’s TASS news agency quoted politician Sergei Zheleznyak as saying after the meeting with Mr Assad.
The Syrian President was in a “good mood” and continuing his work in Damascus, agencies cited the politicians as saying, and praised the Soviet-era air defence systems used by Syria to help to repel the Western attacks.
A senior Russian military official said that Syria’s air defences, which mostly consist of systems made in the Soviet Union, had intercepted 71 of the 105 American, British and French missiles.
The Pentagon said the strikes successfully hit the three chemical weapons facilities which were targeted.
“Yesterday we saw American aggression. And we were able to repel it with Soviet missiles from the 70s,” Russian politician Dmitry Sablin quoted Mr Assad as saying, TASS reported.
Mr Sablin also said Mr Assad accepted an invitation to visit the Siberian region of Khanty-Mansi in Russia.
It was not clear when the visit would take place.
Syria’s deputy foreign minister Faisal Mekdad also met inspectors from the global chemical weapons watchdog OPCW for about three hours in the presence of Russian officers and a senior Syrian security official.
The inspectors were due to try to visit the site of the suspected gas attack. Moscow condemned the Western states for refusing to wait for their findings before attacking.
Russia had said it would consider supplying S-300 surface to-air missile systems to Syria following the Western strikes, but this was not discussed at the meeting with Mr Assad, agencies reported.
Mr Assad also declined to comment on calls by the US State Department to declare alleged Syrian stockpiles of chemical weapons, Mr Zheleznyak said.