NEWS
14/04/2018 17:46 BST | Updated 15/04/2018 08:49 BST

US Warns It Remains 'Locked And Loaded' As NATO Says Syria Strike Was 'Right Thing To Do'

'The time for talk ended last night.'

Eduardo Munoz / Reuters
United States Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley speaks during the emergency United Nations Security Council meeting on Syria at the U.N. headquarters in New York

The US has warned it remains “locked and loaded” in a statement aimed at deterring further chemical attacks in Syria. 

Speaking at a UN Security Council meeting in New York on Saturday, UN ambassador Nikki Haley pointed out that the emergency meeting was the fifth this week on Syria, adding “the time for talk ended last night”.

She said US President Donald Trump had told her that if there was further use of chemical weapons by Assad’s regime, the US was “locked and loaded”.

During a meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, US Vice-President Mike Pence is reported to have said Trump is prepared to continue with military operations such as those carried out overnight “if necessary”.

Haley’s comments came as NATO expressed its “full support” for the retaliation strike on Syria undertaken by the US, Britain and France early today, saying that it was the “right thing to do”. 

EMMANUEL DUNAND via Getty Images
NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg addresses a press conference in reaction of the strikes against Syria by France, the United Kingdom and the United States, at NATO headquarters in Brussels

Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Saturday that he had been fully briefed and had “no reason to doubt” the intelligence. 

Speaking at a press conference in Brussels, he said: “Before the strikes took place last night, Nato allies exhausted all other possible ways to address this issue through the UN Security Council by diplomatic and political means.

“Since this was blocked by Russia there was no other alternative than to react the way they reacted at this time.”

He added: “Compared to the alternative of doing nothing, this was the right thing to do.”

The UN Security Council was today told what Syria needed to do to resolve the crisis by UK ambassador Karen Pierce who set out four requirements.

The first was for Syria to end its chemical weapons programme and destroy its stockpiles.

The other three requirements included that the Syrian regime return to the Geneva talks, allow humanitarian access to the country and that there must be “accountability for the use of chemical weapons and other crimes in Syria”.

Pierce said the UK’s involvement in the air strikes that began around 2am UK time, was a “humanitarian intervention” which was legally justified.

HECTOR RETAMAL via Getty Images
British Ambassador to the UN Karen Pierce speaks during a UN Security Council meeting, at United Nations Headquarters in New York

“The Syrian regime has been killing its own people for seven years,” Pierce said, and the use of chemical weapons “was a war crime and a crime against humanity”.

The meeting came soon after Downing Street published a document setting out why it says military action against the Syrian regime was legal, stating it had met three conditions permitted under international law.

The conditions are: 

  • There is convincing evidence of distress that requires immediate and urgent relief

  • There is no alternative to force to save lives

  • The force is necessary and proportionate to the aim of relieving humanitarian suffering

Read the full legal opinion here

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn earlier warned the military action was “legally questionable”.

At the security council meeting its secretary general, Antonio Guterres, called for “restraint” as Russia’s representative likened the strike to “hooliganism”.

Guterres said: “I urge all member states to show restraint in these dangerous circumstances and to avoid any acts that could escalate matters and worsen the suffering of the Syrian people.”

Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia, Russia’s ambassador to the UN, said the response followed a “well tried” pattern of provocation, “mendacious” accusation, verdict and punishment.

He said: “This is hooliganism in international relations, and not minor hooliganism given that we are talking about major nuclear powers.”

Pierce told the meeting there had been “clear boundaries” in the action that had been taken in an attempt to avoid escalation.

She said repeated attempts to hold the Syrian regime to account had been met with Russian “obstruction and resistance”.

“We have repeatedly in this council attempted to overcome this obstruction, without success,” she said.

“We are faced with a litany of violations, no sense of guilt, no sense of regret, no sense of responsibility, a shameful record wrapped in a mix of denial, deceit and disinformation.”

Pierce added:  “I will take no lessons in international law from Russia.”

During a telephone conversation this afternoon, Theresa May, Donald Trump and Emmanuel Macron agreed the military strikes in Syria “had been a success”, a Downing Street spokesman said.

“In separate calls, the Prime Minister this afternoon spoke with President Macron and President Trump.

“The three leaders agreed that the military strikes taken against the Syrian Regime’s chemical weapons sites had been a success.

“The Prime Minister welcomed the public support which had been given by fellow world leaders for the strong stand the UK, France and the United States had taken in degrading Syria’s chemical weapons capability and deterring their use, defending global rules, and sending a clear message that the use of chemical weapons can never become normalised.”

Trump thanked May for her support in the military action, the White House said.

“President Donald J Trump spoke today with Prime Minister Theresa May of the United Kingdom,” a spokesman said.

“The President thanked Prime Minister May for her support to rid Syria of chemical weapons.

“The President and the Prime Minister affirmed that our recent airstrikes in Syria in response to the April 7 chemical weapons attack on the besieged enclave of Douma were successful and necessary to deter their further use.”

On Saturday night Downing Street added that May had now also spoken to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, King Abdullah of Jordan, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, President Nicos Anastasiades of Cyprus, Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, EU President Donald Tusk, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

A No 10 spokesman said: “The PM explained that the action the UK has taken with our American and French allies was limited, carefully targeted and designed to alleviate humanitarian suffering, degrade the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons capability and deter their use in the future.

“The response was not just to the Douma attack but to a series of devastating assaults on the Syrian people by their government.

“All of the leaders agreed with the Prime Minister on the importance of restoring the international norm that the use of chemical weapons is never acceptable.”

US Vice-President Pence said Saturday that the strike had “degraded and crippled” the chemical weapons capabilities of Syria, Reuters reported, in comments echoed by France. 

Defence Minster Florence Parly told a press conference that the Syrian regime’s capacity to produce and store chemical weapons had been “considerably weakened”.