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Will joint strikes on Syria prevent future atrocities by Assad government?

The Yomiuri ShimbunThe most pressing matter is to avert a situation in which more chemical weapons are used in the civil war in Syria. Neither the United States nor Russia can be allowed to escalate their military rivalry in Syria.

As suspicions strengthened that the forces of Syrian President Bashar Assad have again used chemical weapons, the United States launched a concerted operation with Britain and France. They conducted bombing attacks against targets at three sites, including a chemical weapons research facility on the outskirts of the capital of Damascus and a chemical weapons storage facility in the central province of Homs.

U.S. President Donald Trump said in an address that the main aim of the attacks was “to establish a strong deterrent against the production, spread and use of chemical weapons.”

When suspicion arose over the Assad government’s use of chemical weapons last year, U.S. forces alone attacked a Syrian air base but could not make the government change its actions. By expanding the scale of the attacks through its cooperation with Britain and France and targeting chemical weapons facilities, the United States likely attempted to check Syria from using chemical weapons further.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the Japanese government “supports the resolve of the United States, Britain and France.”

It has been said that the Assad government, even after Syria joined the Chemical Weapons Convention in 2013, possessed sarin and chlorine gas and used them in its attacks.

In the aftermath of an air raid against a rebel-held foothold on April 7, images from the site showed small children and others collapsing and foaming at the mouth. Such an act is nothing short of ghastly.

Don’t abandon U.S. duties

Atrocities that flout international norms must not be left unanswered. Attacks by the United States, Britain and France will be a warning to North Korea, which continues developing not only nuclear but also chemical weapons and is said to have been providing Syria with its technology.

It cannot be overlooked that Russia, which supports the Assad government, has not assumed its responsibility for preventing the government from using chemical weapons. Calling the three-nation attacks an “act of aggression” against Syria, Russia has even issued a statement suggesting that retaliatory steps will be taken.

U.S. troops tasked with eradicating the extremist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), as well as Russian troops supporting the forces of the Assad government, are stationed in Syria. The United States and Russia need to avert any accidental military clashes.

It is worrisome that Trump, apparently conscious of his supporters at home, has repeatedly spelled out policies for weakening the U.S. involvement in the Middle East.

Early this month, Trump referred to an early withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria, saying that the eradication of ISIL is almost complete. In his latest address, he emphasized that the United States “does not seek an indefinite presence in Syria.”

It will become inevitable for Russia and Iran to fill the power vacuum if the United States withdraws from Syria. There would no longer be any brakes to stop inhuman acts by Assad government forces.

Trump should not abandon, on the pretext of advocating “America first” policies, the duties the United States has assumed for the peace and stability in the Middle East.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 15, 2018)Speech



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