NZ given prior warning of Syria attack, expresses 'understanding' of US action video

Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee was among ministers given prior notice of US Syria strike.
ANDY JACKSON/FAIRFAX NZ

Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee was among ministers given prior notice of US Syria strike.

Prime Minister Bill English has backed United States military action against Syria, providing it is "proportionate".

Ministers here were given about two hours notice of the United States' missile attack on the Syrian air base at Shayrat on Friday, taken in response to a nerve gas attack on civilians.

English said the "horrific attacks" using chemical weapons were against all international law.

Watch: Fire, flames and smoke as US missile launches attack on Syria

Watch: Fire, flames and smoke as US missile launches attack on Syria

New Zealand would rather the Syrian issue was solved by diplomatic efforts but the United Nations Security Council had not been able to condemn it or do anything about it.

"So we can understand the US taking action to prevent that kind of chemical attack occurring again and we support action as long as it is proportionate."

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He said Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee was informed an hour or two before the attack, "but we were certainly not asked for our opinion on it".

Foreign Minister Murray McCully expressed "understanding" of why the US had taken unilateral action in response to a suspected nerve gas strike against civilians.

"It is becoming clear that Syrian government forces were responsible for the outrageous attacks where chemical weapons were used," McCully said. 

"These events are horrific. It is critical that the international community emphatically demand an end to this violence, and that the Syrian government be held to account.

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"In the absence of an adequate response from the United Nations Security Council, we can understand why the United States has taken targeted unilateral action to try and prevent further such attacks by the Syrian regime," McCully said.

US President Donald Trump has calling on "civilised nations" to join the US "to end slaughter and bloodshed in Syria". 

A spokeswoman for McCully said New Zealand had not been asked and would need to consider it if or when a request was received.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was reportedly briefed on the raid early on Friday, but The Northern Advocate newspaper said Prime Minister Bill English appeared to be caught on the hop when asked about the US airstrikes. 

English was visiting the Whangarei Town Basin and looked surprised and said he did not know anything about it, the newspaper reported.

However, a spokeswoman for Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee said: "The Minister of Defence was informed prior to the attack via the Ministry of Defence" as was the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

That was passed on to the prime minister's office and English's spokeswoman said he knew, and was not taken by surprise, when the newspaper asked him for comment.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was briefed on the raid early on Friday.

Labour leader Andrew Little said like the rest of the world,he had been horrified at the chemical attack on innocent Syrians and the world needed to express its outrage "over this appalling act by the Syrian government".

But he said "unilateral action should comply with UN resolutions and we do not want a repeat of what happened in Iraq".

"New Zealand must continue to support international efforts to find a lasting peace. Until that happens the humanitarian crisis will only get worse," Little said.

Meanwhile the Green Party has criticised the US for acting unilaterally. "This hasty military action by the US, without consultation with other major powers, threatens global security," Green global affairs spokesman Kennedy Graham said.

"We expect and deserve cooler heads than this from our global leaders. No wrong has ever been righted, no child has ever been protected and no conflict has ever been solved by launching missiles."

 

 - Stuff

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