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American Airstrikes In Syria Strain Already Icy Relationship With Russia

WASHINGTON (CBSNewYork/CBS News) -- Russia continues to condemn the U.S. military strike on Syria, calling it an "aggression" and a "violation of international law."

The White House says it is not planning another airstrike on Syria, unless President Bashar al-Assad unleashes chemical weapons again.

Russian media released a video that appears to show the Syrian air base back in action after the U.S. missile strikes there, CBS2's Dave Carlin reported Saturday.

President Donald Trump, who is in Palm Beach, Florida for the weekend, took to Twitter to explain why more destruction was not done to the base's runways.

Trump sent a letter to Congress, saying the strikes were in America's "vital national security and foreign policy interests." He also left open the possibility of further military action if necessary.

A 1973 law requires the president to keep Congress informed of any new military action within 48 hours.

Russia has now sent a warship armed with missiles to a port in western Syria in an apparent show of force against the U.S. strikes.

However, U.S. officials say they see no reason for Russia to retaliate.

"The Russians were never targeted in this particular strike. It was a very deliberate, very proportional and very targeted strike undertaken in response," Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said.

At an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council Friday, Russia's deputy U.N. ambassador, Vladimir Safronkov, said the U.S. should "immediately cease its aggression.''

He called the strike a "flagrant violation of international law and an act of aggression'' and said "consequences for regional and international security could be extremely serious,'' adding that Russia firmly stands by the Syrian government.

But U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley said "the world is waiting for the Russian government to act responsibly in Syria."

"The United States took a very measured step last night," she said "We are prepared to do more. But we hope that will not be necessary. It is time for all civilized nations to stop the horrors that are taking place in Syria and demand a political solution."

Haley also blamed Russia, which was supposed to guarantee Syria was stripped of its chemical weapons in 2013.

"Obviously that has not happened, as innocent Syrians continue to be murdered in chemical attacks," she said.

Two U.S. Navy war ships fired off 59 cruise missiles, targeting an air base in central Syria Thursday night. Syrian military officials said at least six soldiers were killed and several were wounded.

Senior defense officials say about 20 Russian-made aircraft were destroyed, and satellite pictures from the Pentagon highlight the destruction of numerous aircraft shelters where the White House says Assad launched a chemical weapon attack on his own people.

"I think what happened in Syria is one of the truly egregious crimes and it shouldn't have happened and it shouldn't be allowed to happen," President Donald Trump said following the alleged chemical attack.

The action is a reversal for Trump, who in the past spoke against United States involvement in the Syrian Civil War. But after images emerged of 80 civilians, including children dying from the reported sarin gas attack, the Trump administration said the use of chemical weapons must be punished.

"The United States will not stand by when chemical weapons are used," Haley said Friday.

Meanwhile, the Syrian military released video of its officers visiting the targeted air base, showing little in the way of damage.

As CBS2's Ali Bauman reported, the American retaliation may have put a strain on American relations with Russia, Syria's most powerful ally.

In a statement earlier Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Putin believes President Donald Trump ordered the strikes under a "far-fetched pretext."

Russia's Foreign Ministry said "the actions taken today by the U.S.A. further destroy Russian-American relations."

Also on Friday, Syrian President Bashar Assad called the U.S. strike "reckless" and "irresponsible" while Syria's army decried the strike as "an outrageous aggression"  and declared the U.S. a "partner with ISIS, Nusra, and other terrorist groups," CBS News reported.


Trump ordered the air strike in response to this week's chemical weapons attack the Syrian government carried out against a Syrian village, killing more than 80 civilians.

The president talked about the missile strike from his Mar-a-Lago estate Thursday night.

"Tonight, I ordered a targeted military strike on the airfield in Syria from where the chemical attack was launched," Trump said. "Tonight, I call on all civilized nations to join us in seeking to end the slaughter and bloodshed in Syria."

Trump said there is "no dispute" that Syria used banned chemical weapons, violating its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention.

"Years of previous attempts at changing Assad's behavior have all failed, and failed very dramatically," he said. "As a result, the refugee crisis continues to deepen and the region continues to destabilize, threatening the United States and its allies."

Asked whether the White House believes Assad should be forced out, Spicer would only say the use of weapons like sarin gas has got to end.

"The Syrian government, the Assad regime should at the minimum agree to abide by the agreements they made not to use chemical weapons," he said. "I think that should be a minimum standard throughout the world. I think that's where we start."

Assad has denied carrying out Tuesday's chemical attack, saying chemical agents were released from a rebel stockpile that was hit during conventional strikes by Syrian warplanes.

Russia, which backed up that explanation, argued Friday that the chemical weapons capabilities of the rebels were being ignored, CBS News reported.

A rebel commander, Jamil al-Saleh, said "Bashar's regime only understands force" and said he hopes the strike "is a turning point and not a passing thing.''

Former President Barack Obama had threatened action against Syria, but backed down after Assad promised to turn over the country's chemical weapons.

"We saw President Obama draw a red line," said CBS News senior national security analyst Fran Townsend. "We saw President Trump enforce it last night."

Security experts say the airstrikes will probably stop Assad from using additional chemical weapons, but it's not likely that he'll relinquish his power, CBS2's Janelle Burrell reported.

"This will deter him, but we did not go after regime commanding control," said CBS News senior national security contributor and former Deputy Director of the CIA Michael Morrell. "And so that will also send him a message that we are not trying to force him out militarily."

Other world leaders and officials have expressed support for the air strike.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said, "I spoke with the president directly and emphasized that Canada agrees that Assad's repeated use of chemical weapons must not continue. In the face of such heinous war crimes, all civilized peoples must speak with one voice."

British Prime Minister Theresa May's office said it was "an appropriate response to the barbaric chemical weapons attack launched by the Syrian regime.''

In a tweet Friday, European Union Council President Donald Tusk said the "U.S. strikes show needed resolve against barbaric chemical attacks. EU will work with the US to end brutality in Syria.''

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said "the Syrian regime bears the full responsibility for this development.''

"Any use of chemical weapons is unacceptable, cannot go unanswered, and those responsible must be held accountable,'' Stoltenberg said.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said "the resolve of the U.S. government of never tolerating the proliferation and use of chemical weapons.''

The United Arab Emirates praised Trump's "courageous and wise decision'' and said the U.S. had its "full support."

Iran's Foreign Ministry called the strike "dangerous, destructive and violates the principles of international law.''

Local officials and other lawmakers across the country have also been responding to the strike.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., released a statement saying "making sure Assad knows that when he commits such despicable atrocities he will pay a price is the right thing to do.‎"

"It is now incumbent on the Trump administration to come up with a strategy and consult with Congress before implementing it. I salute the professionalism and skill of our Armed Forces who took action today," he continued.

Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., told CBS2's Tony Aiello that after the drama Thursday night, the challenge now is diplomacy.

"While this may have sent a message to Assad: 'Do not use chemical weapons or otherwise there's a consequence,' the real issue is how do we change Russia and Iran's calculation to continue supporting Assad," he said.

Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., called the chemical attack in Syria "a heinous act and a crime against humanity" but said "escalation without the support of Congress, the American people, and our allies would create more instability and put lives at risk."

Congresswoman Nita M. Lowey, D-Rockland/Westchester, said, "There is no place in human society for chemical weapons and those who use such barbaric tools must be held accountable."

Connecticut Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy called the strike "an ill-thought out military action with absolutely no overall strategy for Syria" that he said "risks dragging us further into a civil war in which we cannot tip the scales."

Tillerson is set for an official visit to Moscow next week.

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