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International Reactions To U.S. Strike On Syria Are Mixed


We're going to start with reactions to the U.S. airstrikes on that Syrian air base two days ago. That was in response to a chemical weapons attack. It was the first time the U.S. has directly targeted Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime after years of civil war there. The Assad regime has repeatedly been accused of atrocities but has denied it. We've heard quite a bit of reaction in recent days from lawmakers in the U.S.

So we thought we'd try to get a sense of how people in other parts of the world are reacting. Later this hour, we'll also hear from a Syrian-American activist who's been lobbying for years to get the U.S. more involved in the conflict. But we'll start with Al-Jazeera's Washington bureau chief Abderrahim Foukara. Abderrahim, thanks so much for joining us once again.

ABDERRAHIM FOUKARA: Good to be with you, Michel.

MARTIN: So now we know that Russia has strongly objected to the airstrikes. President Vladimir Putin called them a violation of international law, an act of aggression. Russia is an ally of Assad's. But what about Syria's closest neighbors - Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Iraq? What are they saying?

FOUKARA: Well, their reactions run the whole gamut. You have countries like Saudi Arabia and Turkey who have been pressing for years to have Assad ousted. They haven't had any success with that. But when the strike happened, they basically saw something very positive in it. There are neighbors who were against it. The Iranians echoing the Russian position are obviously strongly opposed. They have a big stake in Syria. They have a big stake like the Russians in Bashar al-Assad actually staying in power. So they are opposed to this strike.

And then there are those who are ambiguous. Egypt, for example - it's historically - there's always been a sort of alliance between Cairo and Damascus, and anything that happens to Bashar al-Assad in Damascus, the Egyptians, Cairo, would see it as a threat to the region. Having said that, they have called for the United States and Russia to sort of try and sort out the situation diplomatically. So as you can see, the reactions - as would have been expected - they run the whole gamut.

MARTIN: You know, it's been much noted that as a private citizen Donald Trump spoke out adamantly against these kinds of military interventions. He spoke out against them again while running for president. Much noted in this country this about face - I was wondering what the reaction has been internationally.

FOUKARA: Quite frankly, people in the Middle East, in Europe and elsewhere had begun to despair about Trump doing anything decisive in foreign policy. And this obviously came as a big surprise. I mean, take the Europeans, for example, we talked about refugees over and over. And they have borne the brunt of the refugee crisis from Syria to such an extent that the European Union was on the brink of coming undone.

So for them to see President Donald Trump sort of go out of his shell and finally try to deal with the situation in Syria in his own way was a welcome sign from what we could make out to many of them. Remains to be seen how the situation evolves and what implications, what repercussions it would have for them as well as for Syria's neighbors in the Middle East.

MARTIN: Obviously one of the questions on the table now is whether this was a one-time response or whether it's indicative of a change in strategy overall. That remains to be seen, but do you have any sense from your reporting of whether just this action alone has changed the dynamics in any way on the ground or has changed the dynamics in any way in how the act - or as - the main players here are behaving?

FOUKARA: If you talk to the Syrian opposition in areas that the opposition - as it's called the moderate opposition to Bashar al-Assad is located in Syria - obviously, they are so desperate. They have been so desperate in recent months because everybody had been predicting the death of the opposition in light of the military victories that Bashar al-Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies and Hezbollah have been scoring.

So this may not be total sucker to them, but it's definitely given them hopes that at least this administration doesn't seem to be completely disengaged from the Syria conflict because there was a lot of acrimony against the Obama administration. They felt that, you know, he'd cut them loose, whether that was true or not. But now they feel that with this at least President Trump is sending a message, not just to Bashar al-Assad but to the international community that he is focused on what's going on in Syria and hasn't bequeathed the crisis completely to the Russians.

MARTIN: That's Al-Jazeera's Washington bureau chief Abderrahim Foukara talking with us in our studios in Washington, D.C. Abderrahim, thanks so much for speaking with us.

FOUKARA: Great to be with you, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.