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Sunday December 16th, 2018 2:49PM

The Latest: NATO chief says Russia obstruction forced attack

By The Associated Press
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WASHINGTON (AP) — The Latest on U.S.-led missile strikes on Syria (all times local):

12:40 p.m.

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg says Russia's obstruction course at the U.N. Security Council left NATO's U.S, British and French allies no option but to launch a missile attack on key Syrian installations.

Stoltenberg said after a debriefing of NATO ambassadors by the three allies Saturday that "before the attack took place last night, NATO allies exhausted all other possible ways to address this issue to the UNSC by diplomatic and political means."

He added, "But since this was blocked by Russia, there was no other alternative."

Stoltenberg says, "I am not saying that the attacks last night solved all problems but compared to the alternative to do nothing this was the right thing to do."

A U.S.-led airstrike campaign against Syria was in response to a suspected chemical attack against civilians last weekend.

___

12:35 p.m.

Russia is demanding a vote on a U.N. resolution that would condemn "the aggression" against Syria by the United States and its allies.

The resolution is certain to be defeated in the U.N. Security Council when it is put to a vote later Saturday at the end of an emergency meeting called by Russia following airstrikes by the U.S., U.K. and France in Syria against chemical sites.

The short draft resolution calls the "aggression" a violation of international law and the U.N. charter.

It demands that military action stop "immediately and without delay."

Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told the council that the U.S. and its allies struck without waiting for an investigation by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, calling the attack "hooliganism."

___

12:30 p.m.

Vice President Mike Pence says the U.S.-led airstrikes on Syria "degraded and crippled" the country's chemical weapons capability.

Pence told Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on the sidelines of a summit in Peru on Saturday that President Donald Trump "made it clear to the world" that the United States "will not tolerate these chemical weapons."

And he says the U.S. is "prepared to sustain this effort if necessary."

Pence is filling in for Trump at the Summit of the Americas in Lima.

Pence says he's hopeful that Russia and Iran will "once and for all abandon chemical weapons" against innocent civilians.

Trudeau has called the airstrikes "unfortunate but necessary."

The airstrikes that hit Syria earlier Saturday were in response to a suspected chemical attack against civilians last weekend.

___

12:25 p.m.

NATO says all 29 of its members in the alliance back the airstrikes on Syria as a consequence of the country conducting a suspected chemical attack against its civilians last weekend.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the strikes early Saturday by the U.S., United Kingdom and France were about making sure that chemical weapons cannot be used with impunity. He noted that the three allies said it was "a very successful action" that significantly degraded the abilities of Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces to launch chemical attacks soon again.

On April 7, more than 40 civilians were killed in a suspected chemical attack in Douma outside Damascus. Syria has denied responsibility, but the U.S., France and Britain have said there is no doubt the Assad government was responsible.

___

12:15 p.m.

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations says President Donald Trump told her if the Syrian regime uses poisonous gas again, "the United States is locked and loaded" to strike again.

Nikki Haley relayed the message from Trump at an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Saturday. She says, "When our president draws a red line, our president enforces the red line."

Haley says the message from the U.S., U.K. and French airstrikes earlier Saturday that "crippled Syria's chemical weapons program" was "crystal clear."

She says, "The United States of America will not allow the Assad regime to continue using chemical weapons."

Haley accused Russia of defending Syrian President Bashar Assad and failing to ensure that Syria's chemical weapons were destroyed as the Assad regime had pledged in 2013.

___

Noon

French Defense Minister Florence Parly says that the joint military strikes by the U.S., Britain and France on Syrian targets was a success and that the mission's goals have been achieved.

Parly spoke Saturday at a news conference following a defense council meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron and other officials. She says, "Syria's ability to design, produce and stockpile chemical weapons has been greatly diminished."

Parly says, "The mission is a success. Its military objectives are achieved."

The joint military strikes were intended as a punishment for Syrian President Bashar Assad for a suspected chemical attack against civilians in the town of Douma outside Damascus last week. Opposition leaders and rescuers say more than 40 people, including many women and children, died in the suspected chemical attack.

___

11:25 a.m.

Turkey's president says the airstrikes on Syrian targets in retaliation for a suspected chemical attack were "correct" and showed the Syrian regime that such actions would not go "unanswered."

Speaking Saturday in Istanbul, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan expressed his support of the joint American, British and French military operation but said more must be done to hold the Syrian regime accountable for the hundreds of thousands killed using conventional weapons.

He says, "The people martyred by chemicals is a certain amount, but the people martyred by conventional weapons is much, much more."

Erdogan called the days leading up to the airstrikes a "showdown" led by America and Russia. He says he pushed for a peaceful end to the tension in a conversation with British Prime Minister Theresa May earlier Saturday.

___

10:10 a.m.

The Pentagon says a Russian "disinformation campaign" has already begun over the U.S.-led airstrikes in Syria.

Chief Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said Saturday that "there has been a 2,000 percent increase in Russian trolls in the past 24 hours."

The U.S., Britain and France said they launched Saturday's strike to punish Syrian President Bashar Assad for a suspected chemical attack against civilians in the town of Douma outside Damascus. Opposition leaders and rescuers say more than 40 people, including many women and children, died in the suspected chemical attack.

Russia's Foreign Ministry says the attack was an attempt to derail an investigation into a purported chemical attack. The Foreign Ministry says facts presented by Russian investigators indicated that the purported attack was a "premeditated and cynical sham."

___

10 a.m.

The Pentagon is backing President Donald Trump's assertion that the missile strikes on Syria were "Mission Accomplished!"

Trump used the haunting political phrase "Mission Accomplished!" in a tweet Saturday morning to praise the "perfectly executed strike" against Syria. President George W. Bush famously spoke under a "Mission Accomplished" banner in 2003 when he declared that major combat operations in Iraq were over, but the war dragged on for years.

Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White says, "It was mission accomplished."

However, one of the stated goals of the strikes was to deter Syrian President Bashar Assad's government from using chemical weapons again. It is too soon to know if that will be the case.

White says the strikes "were very successful. We met our objectives. We hit the sites."

___

9:50 a.m.

The Pentagon says they believe the airstrikes "attacked the heart of the Syrian chemical weapons program."

Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the director of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon, says the U.S.-led airstrikes against Syria has been "a very serious blow."

The U.S., France and Britain launched military strikes on Saturday morning in Syria to punish President Bashar Assad (bah-SHAR' AH'-sahd) for an apparent chemical attack against civilians last week and to deter him from doing it again.

Chief Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White says the target choices were "very methodical," calling it a "deliberate decision" to go after chemical weapons facilities. She says the U.S. was confident that they had "significantly degraded his ability to use chemical weapons ever again."

___

9:30 a.m.

The Pentagon says none of the missiles filed by the U.S. and its allies was deflected by Syrian air defenses, rebutting claims by the Russian and Syrian governments.

Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the director of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon, says: "None of our aircraft or missiles involved in this operation were successfully engaged by Syrian air defenses." He says there also is no indication that Russian air defense systems were employed early Saturday in Syria.

The Russian military had previously said Syria's Soviet-made air defense systems downed 71 out of 103 cruise missiles launched by the United States and its allies.

McKenzie says 105 weapons were launched against three targets in Syria.

Characterizing the strike as a success, McKenzie says, "As of right now we're not aware of any civilian casualties."

___

9:20 a.m.

The Pentagon says the U.S.-led airstrikes on Syria "successfully hit every target."

Chief Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said Saturday that the strikes were launched to "cripple Syria's ability to use chemical weapons in the future."

The U.S., France and Britain launched military strikes on Saturday morning in Syria to punish President Bashar Assad (bah-SHAR' AH'-sahd) for an apparent chemical attack against civilians last week and to deter him from doing it again.

White says the strikes do not "represent a change in U.S. policy or an attempt to depose the Syrian regime." But she says, "We cannot allow such grievous violations of international law."

She also called on Russia to "honor its commitment" to ensure the Assad regime gives up chemical weapons.

___

9 a.m.

Russia's Foreign Ministry says the U.S. and its allies launched strikes on Syria to derail an investigation into a purported chemical attack.

The U.S., Britain and France said they launched Saturday's strike to punish Syrian President Bashar Assad for an alleged chemical attack against civilians in the town of Douma outside Damascus.

The Foreign Ministry said that facts presented by Russian investigators indicated the purported attack was a "premeditated and cynical sham."

The ministry noted that the strikes were launched on Saturday as a team of experts from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons was to visit Douma. It added that "we have every reason to believe that the attack on Syria was intended to hamper the work of the OPCW inspectors."

___

8:45 a.m.

President Donald Trump is using a haunting political phrase "Mission Accomplished" in the aftermath of the U.S.-led airstrikes against Syria.

Back in 2003, then-President George W. Bush spoke under a "Mission Accomplished" banner when he went aboard an aircraft carrier in California to declare that major combat operations in Iraq were over — just six weeks after the invasion.

But the war dragged on for many years after that, and Bush was heavily criticized for his statement.

Trump is tweeting about what he calls "a perfectly executed strike" against Syria. And he's thanking allies France and Britain "for their wisdom and the power of their fine Military. Could not have had a better result. Mission Accomplished!"

___

8:30 a.m.

A U.N. Security Council diplomat says the council will meet later Saturday at Russia's request, following the U.S.-led airstrikes on Syria.

Moscow has denounced the attack on its ally by the U.S., Britain and France. Russian President Vladimir Putin calls it an "act of aggression" that will only worsen the humanitarian crisis in Syria.

The Security Council held emergency meetings this past week on the suspected poison gas attack last weekend in the rebel-controlled Damascus suburb of Douma.

President Donald Trump and his British and French allies say the airstrikes were necessary to deter Syria's use of chemical weapons. Russia insists there's no evidence that chemical weapons were used.

A fact-finding team from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is in Syria to investigate.

___

7:10 a.m.

A global chemical warfare watchdog group says its fact-finding mission to Syria will go ahead even after the U.S.-led airstrikes.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons says in a statement that its team will stick to its plan to investigate last weekend's suspected poison gas attack in Douma.

The group says the mission "will continue its deployment to the Syrian Arab Republic to establish facts around the allegations of chemical weapons use in Douma."

Russia and Syria disagree with Western allies that gas was used by Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces to suppress opposition close to Damascus in an April 7 attack.

___

7:05 a.m.

Iranian officials have made calls to Syrian leaders in the wake of the U.S.-led airstrikes against Syrian targets.

Iran's president, Hassan Rouhani (hah-SAHN' roh-HAH'-nee), tells Syria's Bashar Assad (bah-SHAR' AH'-sahd) that America's goal is to justify its continued presence in the region.

That description of their conversation comes from Syrian and Iranian state news agencies.

Iran's foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, has spoken with his Syrian counterpart, too. Zarif says the U.S. is using allegations of chemical weapons to justify attacking Syria before inspectors from a chemical weapons watchdog agency begin their work.

___

5:50 a.m.

Iran's state-run IRNA news agency says Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (hah-meh-neh-EE') has called the U.S.-led airstrikes on Syria a "military crime."

He spoke at a meeting with Iranian officials and ambassadors from some Islamic countries.

The report quotes Khamenei as calling the leaders of the United States, Britain and France — the countries that launched the attack — "criminals."

The allies' operation was intended to punish Syrian President Bashar Assad for an apparent chemical attack against civilians and to deter him from doing it again.

___

5:45 a.m.

NATO representatives are planning a special session to hear from U.S., British and French officials about their military strike against Syria.

The alliance briefing is expected later Saturday, and NATO's secretary-general has expressed strong support for the coordinated military action aimed at the Syrian governor's chemical weapons program.

Jens Stoltenberg says the missile strikes will erode the Syrian government's "ability to further attack the people of Syria with chemical weapons."

___

5:40 a.m.

The leader of Britain's largest opposition party is suggesting Prime Minister Theresa May could face a backlash in Parliament for her decision to join the United States and France in launching airstrikes against Syria.

The Labour Party's Jeremy Corbyn says the allies' bombing is "legally questionable" and risks further escalating "an already devastating conflict."

Corbyn says "May should have sought parliamentary approval, not trailed after Donald Trump."

The prime minister will appear before the House of Commons on Monday to explain her decision on joining the airstrikes

Corbyn says the strikes will make assigning blame for the use of chemical weapons in Syria "less, not more likely." He says Britain should be leading the response and "not taking instructions from Washington and putting British military personnel in harm's way."

___

5:30 a.m.

Syrian state TV has broadcast images of the destruction at a scientific research center near the capital of Damascus that was targeted in airstrikes by the United States, France and Britain.

Pentagon officials say the attacks targeted the heart of Syrian President Bashar Assad's (bah-SHAR' AH'-sahds) programs to develop and produce chemical weapons.

The Syrian military says more than one 100 missiles were fired against a military base in Syria's central Homs province and the research center in Barzeh, near Damascus.

The images shown on Al-Ikhbariya TV are the first of one of the targets. Seen in the footage are piles of rubble outside a destroyed building and a burned vehicle.

The Syrian military says the attack on the center destroyed an educational center and labs.

___

5:20 a.m.

France's foreign minister is threatening further missile strikes against Syria if the Syrian government uses chemical weapons again.

France joined the United States and Britain in a joint operation that has destroyed what Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian says is a "good part" of the Syrian government's chemical weapons arsenal.

He says France has "no doubt" that the Syrian government was behind a suspected chemical attacks last weekend. Syria denies responsibility.

Le Drian tells BFM television that the goal for the allied mission "was attained" but that if France's "red line is crossed again" there could be another attack.

___

4:55 a.m.

British Prime Minister Theresa May says the need to act quickly and protect what she calls "operational security" led her to decide to join the allied strikes in Syria without a prior vote in Parliament.

She says she'll make a statement in Parliament on Monday explaining her actions. A spirited debate is expected.

The United States, France and Britain have launched military strikes in Syria to punish President Bashar Assad (bah-SHAR' AH'-sahd) for an apparent chemical attack against civilians last week and to deter him from doing it again.

May has come under criticism from some British lawmakers for not bringing back Parliament into session before taking action against Syria,

___

4:45 a.m.

The European Union Commission's president says those who rely on chemical warfare must be held to account by the world.

Jean-Claude Juncker says the suspected use of poison gas last week in the Syrian city of Douma was — as he puts it — a "heinous chemical weapons attack carried out by the Syrian regime."

Juncker says the world "has the responsibility to identify and hold accountable those responsible" for that kind of attack.

___

4:40 a.m.

Germany's chancellor says the allied strikes in Syria were — in her words — a "necessary and appropriate" response to what the U.S. and its allies say was a recent chemical attack in the Syrian city of Douma.

Angela Merkel (AHN'-geh-lah MEHR'-kuhl) says Berlin says the U.S., Britain and France "took responsibility in this way as permanent members of the U.N. Security Council."

Merkel says the strikes were needed "to maintain the effectiveness of the international rejection of chemical weapons use and to warn the Syrian regime against further violations."

Merkel had said earlier this week that Germany wouldn't join allied military action against Syrian government forces.

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