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World

U.N. Holds Emergency Session After U.S. Airstrikes Against Syria

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

The U.S. and Russia traded accusations at an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council today. Russia denounced the missile strike The U.S. launched last night on a Syrian air base. The U.S. accused Russia of shielding a Syrian dictator who uses chemical weapons. This is the same Trump administration that had sought to work more closely with Russia to fight ISIS. Now, that might be in doubt. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley says the Trump administration was justified in attacking the airfield, which she says the Syrians used to launch a chemical weapons attack this week. She says Syrian President Bashar al-Assad thought he could get away with this because Russia would have his back.

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NIKKI HALEY: The moral stain of the Assad regime could no longer go unanswered. His crimes against humanity could no longer be met with empty words. It was time to say enough.

KELEMEN: Russia calls the U.S. strikes an act of aggression. The Russian Ministry of Defense notified the U.S. military that it's suspending the channel they use to steer clear of each other in the skies over Syria. And the Russian deputy U.N. Ambassador Vladimir Safronkov warned this will undercut the fight against extremists in Syria.

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VLADIMIR SAFRONKOV: (Through interpreter) It's not difficult to imagine how much the spirits of these terrorists have been raised after this support from Washington.

KELEMEN: He says Russia wanted to work with the U.S. to fight terrorism, but Washington has taken a different course. And Safronkov reminded diplomats of what happened in Iraq and Libya, where the U.S. helped to oust those country's leaders.

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SAFRONKOV: (Through interpreter) We must recall when you take your own path that this leads to horrible tragedies for countries in the region and the people living there. Think of the consequences. Remember what you've produced in the Middle East.

KELEMEN: Western diplomats have long argued that it is Assad's crimes that are fueling terrorism in Syria. And as British Ambassador Matthew Rycroft points out, Russia has been unable or unwilling to rein in its Syrian partner.

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MATTHEW RYCROFT: Russia sits here today humiliated by its failure to bring to heel a puppet dictator entirely propped up by Russia itself and Hezbollah and Iran.

KELEMEN: The Security Council had been working on a resolution to demand an investigation into the chemical attack, even as the Trump administration prepared the strikes. Ambassador Haley says it was clear the Russians were going to veto. She also says Russia failed to use its influence to rid Syria of chemical weapons as required by a 2013 deal endorsed by the Security Council.

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HALEY: It could be that Russia is knowingly allowing chemical weapons to remain in Syria. It could be that Russia has been incompetent in its efforts to remove the chemical weapons. Or it could be that the Assad regime is playing the Russians for fools.

KELEMEN: Haley is urging Russia to reconsider its, quote, "misplaced alliance with Assad." Russia's ambassador called for an end to the insults. All this comes as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson gets ready for what's likely to be some difficult meetings in Moscow next week. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.