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Russia, Iran, Syria issue warning to US after trilateral meeting

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif, right, shakes hands with his Syrian counterpart Walid Muallem, left, as Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov looks on after a joint press conference in Moscow Friday. (AFP)

MOSCOW/WASHINGTON: Russia, Syria and Iran strongly warned the US on Friday against launching new strikes on Syria, and called for an international probe into last week’s chemical attack there.
However, a US State Department official who spoke to Arab News on condition of anonymity on Friday reaffirmed the legitimacy of President Donald Trump’s military action.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who hosted his Iranian and Syrian counterparts at a trilateral meeting in Moscow, denounced the US attack as a “flagrant violation” of international law.
He warned that any further such action would entail “grave consequences not only for regional but global security.”
The State Department official defended the US action on April 6 as “justified, legitimate and proportionate.”
Echoing Washington’s criticism of Syrian President Bashar Assad, the official said the regime’s “use of chemical weapons in violation of international law has been broadly condemned by the international community.”
Meanwhile, the State Department said Thursday the Assad regime’s chemical attack on civilians amounts to a “war crime.”
It also ridiculed comments by Assad in an interview with Agence France-Presse (AFP) that the attack was fabricated by the US to justify a military strike.
“Sadly, it’s vintage Assad. It is an attempt by him to throw up false flags, create confusion,” said State Department spokesman Mark Toner. “It wasn’t only a violation of the laws of war, but it was, we believe, a war crime.”
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said the trilateral meeting sent a “strong message” to Washington.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif said the participants warned that any unilateral action by the US is unacceptable.
The US has blamed the Syrian regime for the chemical attack in Khan Sheikhun that killed more than 80 people on April 4, and responded by striking a Syrian air base.
Russia says the victims were killed by toxic agents released from an opposition chemical arsenal, and warned against blaming Damascus until an independent inquiry has been conducted.
Moscow vetoed a Western-drafted UN resolution on Wednesday, saying it failed to mention the need to inspect the area of the attack.
Lavrov accused the US and its allies of trying to stymie an international probe into the attack.
He expressed strong skepticism about a preliminary investigation conducted by the UN chemical weapons watchdog, saying its experts failed to visit the site, and it is unclear to Russia where the samples have been taken and how they have been analyzed.
In Russia’s view, the probe conducted by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) should be widened to include experts from many nations, he said.
“If our US colleagues and some European nations believe that their version is right, they have no reason to fear the creation of such an independent group,” Lavrov added.
“The investigation into this high-profile incident must be transparent and leave no doubt that someone is trying to hide something.”
Lavrov said the US strike on the Syrian base has undermined peace efforts and reflects Washington’s focus on ousting Assad. “Such attempts won’t succeed,” Lavrov said.
The three ministers also discussed the beefing up of US forces on Jordan’s border with Syria. Muallem said.
He added that Russia, Iran and Syria have “common procedures against any aggression,” but would not offer any specifics.
Lavrov said Moscow has asked Washington about the purpose of the build-up, and received assurances that it is to cut supply lines between Daesh factions in Syria and Iraq.
“We will keep monitoring the issue, since the only possible reason for using military force on the territory of Syria is to fight terrorism,” Lavrov said.

— with input from AP