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U.N. Urges Restraint In Syria


We are continuing our coverage of last night's airstrikes in Syria. Today, the matter went to the United Nations, where Russia faced off with the U.S., Britain and France. Russia wanted the council to condemn the military strikes, but its resolution, as expected, failed to get enough votes. Diplomats are still at odds, though, over whether the strikes were legal and on how to move forward.

NPR's Michele Kelemen has more on the diplomatic fallout.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Russia's ambassador, Vasily Nebenzya, was not mincing words about what he calls the U.S.-led aggression against Syria and a violation of the U.N. charter.


VASILY NEBENZYA: (Through interpreter) This is hooliganism in international relations, and not minor hooliganism, given that we're talking about major nuclear powers.

KELEMEN: The U.S., U.K. and France - all permanent Security Council members - argue that their action was limited and justified, meant to uphold an international norm against the use of chemical weapons. Russia is accusing Syrian rebels of staging last week's attack to draw in Western powers. U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley says it's clear a Russian disinformation campaign is in full force.


NIKKI HALEY: The pictures of dead children were not fake news. They were the result of the Syrian regime's barbaric inhumanity.

KELEMEN: And she's putting Syria and its Russian backers on notice, warning the U.S. will respond to any future chemical attacks.


HALEY: I spoke to the president this morning, and he said if the Syrian regime uses this poisonous gas again, the United States is locked and loaded. When our president draws a red line, our president enforces the red line.

KELEMEN: U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres is trying to walk a fine line, calling chemical weapons attacks abhorrent but also urging U.N. member states not to do anything that would lead to more suffering in Syria. He says Syrians have lived through a litany of horrors for eight long years.


ANTONIO GUTERRES: In Syria, we see confrontations and proxy wars involving several national armies, a number of armed opposition groups, many national and international militia, foreign fighters from everywhere in the world and various terrorist organizations.

KELEMEN: And this is difficult to untangle with so many countries backing various sides in this war and with U.S.-Russia relations at a low point. The U.S. says its strategy is the same. U.S. troops are fighting ISIS in the northeast of the country. As for the civil war, it says it supports U.N.-led negotiations. The secretary general is hoping to find a way to get the Syrian government to the negotiating table.


GUTERRES: I've asked my special envoy to come to New York as soon as possible to consult with me on the most effective way to accelerate the political process.

KELEMEN: But Russia's ambassador, Nebenzya, says the U.S.-led strikes were a blow to those efforts. And he says his country is waiting for cooler heads to prevail.


NEBENZYA: Look. We are in an environment now which is very sad, not very conducive for any rapprochement. First, we have to sort out the dangerous military situation we're in now. We hope that they will refrain from any further escalation of this situation, and then we can come to discussing anything else.

KELEMEN: Russia has shielded its ally Syria throughout this conflict, vetoing numerous resolutions, six of them about chemical weapons use. President Trump says Russia and Iran, which also backs the Syrian regime, will be judged by the friends they keep.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.