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Showdown Occurs At The U.N. Security Council As Trump Considers Strikes On Syria


Russia went to the United Nations Security Council today to warn the U.S. away from conducting airstrikes in Syria. It marks another chapter in the diplomatic confrontation between the two countries that has deadlocked the council. Russia backs the Syrian government with planes and troops. U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley says President Trump will not rush into an attack. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: In another diplomatic showdown in the U.N. Security Council, Russia's ambassador, Vasily Nebenzya, called an emergency meeting that seemed aimed at one thing - to head off U.S. military strikes, which he says would violate the U.N. charter and put Russian troops in harm's way.


VASILY NEBENZYA: (Through interpreter) This cannot be tolerated. Such a development of events is fraught with grave repercussions for global security, especially in the light of the deployment in Syria of the Russian military contingent.

KELEMEN: Russia had been saying there were no signs of chemical weapons' use in Duma last weekend. Now it's accusing Western intelligence services of staging an attack. U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley was having none of it.


NIKKI HALEY: I'm in awe, Vasily, of how you say what you say with a straight face. I really, really am.

KELEMEN: Haley says it's not the U.S. that's a threat to peace and security but rather Syria and its backer, Russia, that are, in her words, trying to normalize the use of chemical weapons.


HALEY: Assad's most recent use of poison gas against the people of Duma was not his first, second, third or even 49th use of chemical weapons. The United States estimates that Assad has used chemical weapons in the Syrian war at least 50 times.

KELEMEN: And she says if the U.S. and its partners act, it will be to uphold international norms. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is worried about the diplomatic impasse over how to respond to chemical weapons' use.


ANTONIO GUTERRES: That is exactly the risk we face today, that things spiral out of control. It is our common duty to stop it.

KELEMEN: The secretary-general believes that the Cold War is coming back with a vengeance, but with no way to manage the risks. On that, Russia's Ambassador Nebenzya seems to agree.


NEBENZYA: The situation is developing very dangerously, and the proper lines of communication - the proper communication that existed in much more difficult times does not exist today.

KELEMEN: There are still channels open between the two militaries to try to steer clear of each other in Syria. But Nebenzya says the Trump administration is rushing to judgment on the alleged chemical attack, not even waiting for experts from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to carry out a fact-finding mission this weekend. The State Department says it doesn't know what chemical was used, but says it is confident Syria was responsible. And Ambassador Haley denies the Trump administration is acting impulsively.


HALEY: I am unbelievably proud of how President Trump has looked at the information, analyzed, not let anyone rush him into this. Because he has said from the beginning, we have to know that we're right. We have to know all the information. We have to know that there's proof. And we have to know that we're taking every precaution necessary, should we take action.

KELEMEN: She made the comments just two days after Trump warned Russia via Twitter that U.S. missiles will be coming to Syria, quote, "nice and new and smart." Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department.

(SOUNDBITE OF STRFKR'S "HANNA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.
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