Australia has backed an independent investigation into the Syrian government’s role in deadly chemical weapons attacks, but Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has signalled the Turnbull government favours increasing pressure on Russia and Iran over a US-led direct military intervention.
As President Donald Trump described the deaths of more than 70 people in the northern Idlib province as an unacceptable attack that “crosses many lines”, the US also warned an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council it may take unilateral action against the regime of Bashar al-Assad.
Ms Bishop said the international community should instead seek to put more pressure on Russia and Iran to bring about an end to the six-year civil war.
“They must stop the Assad regime from taking this kind of action, if indeed the Assad regime is responsible in these chemical attacks,” she told ABC radio.
“The United States has made it quite clear that the appalling use of chemical weapons should not be allowed to continue. If indeed it is the Assad regime, as many have claimed, that is responsible for these attacks, then the first step would be to pressure those who are supporting the regime – that is, Russia and Iran – to prevent the Assad regime from continuing.
“Then the question of holding those who are responsible for deploying these chemical weapons to account comes into play.”
Overnight, the US ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, called on Russia to drop a “false narrative” about its role as a patron of Mr Assad, saying “there are times in the life of states that we are compelled to take our own action.”
Ms Bishop and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull joined international condemnation of the attacks on Wednesday – which the US, France and Britain believe were perpetrated by the Assad regime.
But the Foreign Minister said the role of US forces in Syria was part of the fight against the Islamic State group, separate from the civil war, and Mr Trump was yet to detail his changing position on Syria.
Before he entered politics, the businessman publicly opposed military intervention under Barack Obama.
“The ‘Assad must go’ [view] was a position taken by a number of allies of the United States before a political solution could even be discussed,” Ms Bishop said.
“Australia was not of that view. We saw the situation on the ground, that Assad had the backing of Russia and Iran, and that we had to transition him out of the leadership as part of an overall political solution.
“ISIS must be defeated but there is no military solution to the civil war, so our view has always been that Assad must be part of the solution.”
Russia’s Foreign Ministry suggested the latest attack may have been fabricated and said action at the UN was based on “fake information”.
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