NEW YORK – The days of letting Bashar Assad use chemical weapons in Syria without any consequences are over, US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley told the Security Council on Friday morning, a few hours after the US military struck a Syrian air base in response to a sarin gas attack on civilians earlier last week.
“The United States took a very measured step last night,” she added. “We are prepared to do more, but we hope that will not be necessary.”
The chemical assault, which Western powers say was conducted over several hours by Syrian Air Force planes sent by President Bashar Assad, killed 74 people and wounded more than 550.
“Assad did this because he thought he could get away with it,” Haley said. “He thought he could get away with it, because he knew Russia would have his back.”
The ambassador stated that, along with Iran, the Russian government bears considerable responsibility for the deaths, having used its veto at the UN Security Council seven times to shield the Syrian regime from hostile resolutions.
“Every time Assad has crossed the line of human decency, Russia has stood beside him,” she told the council. “The world is waiting for the Russian government to act responsibly in Syria.
“When the international community consistently fails in its duty to act collectively, there are times when states are compelled to take their own action,” Haley said. “The indiscriminate use of chemical weapons against innocent civilians is one of those times.”
In a 17-minute speech, Russian envoy Vladimir Safronkov called the US air strike a “flagrant violation of international law and an act of aggression,” adding that the consequences of this action for regional and international stability could be extremely serious.
He also stated that Russia supports an investigation into the chemical attack instead of unilateral military action. According to him, the Syrian regime should be presumed innocent until proven guilty.
“We must recall that when you take your own path, it leads to horrible tragedies for countries in the region and the people living there,” he said, addressing Haley and the United States. “Think of the consequences – remember what you have produced in the Middle East. Washington, London and Paris have this paranoid idea of overthrowing the legitimate government in sovereign Syria,” Safronkov said.
Friday’s emergency meeting was requested by Bolivia, which joined Russia in harshly criticizing the US for what it called an “imperialistic action.”
The Bolivian representative had originally asked for the discussion to be held in a closed session, but Haley, who presides over the council this month, denied the request.
“Any country that chooses to defend the atrocities of the Syrian regime will have to do so in full public view, for all the world to hear,” she said in a statement before the meeting.