Russia says UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson’s canceling of a trip to Moscow following talks with the US shows Britain’s lack of “real influence” in international affairs.
On Saturday, Johnson canceled a planned trip to Russia because “developments in Syria have changed the situation fundamentally.” The announcement was made after US President Donald Trump ordered a military attack on a Syrian airbase in Homs province just a day after he accused President Bashar al-Assad for last week’s suspected chemical weapons attack, which killed at least 70 people in the town of Khan Shaykhun in Idlib province.
Johnson’s visit to Moscow was canceled after Washington announced that US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson would be going to Moscow to deliver a “clear and coordinated message.”
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A statement released by the Russian Foreign Ministry on Sunday noted that during Johnson’s trip, talks had been scheduled on an “entire spectrum of international problems” and also over Moscow-London ties.
“The decision to call off Johnson’s visit to Moscow confirms once again doubts in the presence of added value in speaking to the UK, which does not have its own position on the majority of present-day issues, nor does it have real influence on the course of international affairs, as it remains ‘in the shadow’ of its strategic partners,” added the statement. “We do not feel that we need dialogue with London any more than it does,” it noted.
Instead of traveling to Russia, Johnson announced that he would be heading to a G7 summit in Lucca, Italy, where he would ask Russian President Vladimir Putin to remove his forces from Syria.
Russia noted that Johnson’s plan to “discuss the Russian support for the Assad regime” with G7 countries shows a “fundamental misunderstanding or ignorance of what is happening in Syria, Russia’s efforts to settle this crisis, and the purpose of diplomacy in general.”
Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei says the recent missile strikes by the US military against a Syrian army air base were a “strategic mistake.”
The Leader made the remarks in a New Year meeting with senior commanders of Iran’s Armed Forces on Sunday.
“What the Americans did was a strategic mistake and error and they are repeating the [same] mistakes as their predecessors,” the Leader said.
“Former American officials created Daesh [terrorists] or helped them, and the current officials are also strengthening Daesh or a group similar to it,” the Leader added.
Elsewhere in his remarks, Ayatollah Khamenei warned that the threat posed by such terrorist groups would backfire on Americans in the future, adding, “Europe is currently in trouble for the wrong step that it took for bolstering Takfiris, and [European] people are not secure at [their] homes and on the street, and America is repeating the same wrong step.”
The Leader then noted that the Americans were quite apt to committing crimes and acts of aggression as they had already carried out such measures in other parts of the world.
Ayatollah Khamenei said some Western countries fully supported the former Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein, during the eight-year imposed war against Iran (1980-88), adding that “hypocrite” European governments, which are now claiming that chemical weapons have been used in Syria, gave tons of chemical weapons to Saddam to use them in attacking the Iranian city of Sardasht and the Iraqi city of Halabjah.
Ayatollah Khamenei also warned against the enemy’s plot to undermine the morale of the Iranian officials, nation and the Armed Forces, saying that the enemy was trying to create a feeling of weakness among Iranians through psychological tactics.
However, the Leader stated, the Islamic Republic has proved that it would not succumb to any unfounded remarks and wrong measures taken by enemies, and the Iranian officials and people, who believe in the Islamic Revolution, would not yield to threats due to their trust in God.
The United States has threatened Russia and Iran with tougher sanctions over their support for Syria, saying nothing “is off the table” in this regard.
“We’re calling [Russia and Iran] out,” US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said in an interview broadcast on CNN on Sunday.
“But I don’t think anything is off the table at this point. I think what you’re going to see is strong leadership. You’re going to continue to see the United States act when we need to act,” she added.
The comments were made after US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he would look into stepping up sanctions on Russia and Iran, which support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The two countries are already under various types of US sanctions.
Washington has alleged that the government of President Assad is responsible for the last week’s suspected chemical attack in Idlib province which killed more than 80 people.
Moscow and Damascus have denied that the Syrian government had anything to do with the attack. The Russian Defense Ministry said the US had no proof of chemical weapons at al-Shayrat airbase, where it fired 59 Tomahawk missiles, killing several people and reportedly destroying a number of Syrian aircraft.
Iran has condemned both the alleged chemical attack and the US missile strike on Syria, saying Washington’s illegal action will embolden terrorist groups in the Middle East region.
‘US has evidence that Assad was behind attack’
In her interview with CNN, Haley insisted that the US administration has evidence that the Syrian government was behind the April 4 chemical attack
“What we’ve seen is, you know, in our meetings this week, we were told of the evidence,” she said. “We saw the evidence. The President saw the evidence. All of that is naturally classified. And I’m sure when they can declassify that, they will.”
On Sunday, Haley once again threatened Syria with further military action, saying President Donald Trump could order more strikes if necessary. She issued a similar threat hours after the April 7 missile strike.
“I was trying to give warning and notice to the members of the Security Council and the international community that (Trump) won’t stop here,” she said, adding. “If he needs to do more, he will do more.”
‘US strike intended to send message to Russia’
In a separate interview NBC News on Sunday, Haley said the US missile attack in Syria was intended to send a message to the Russian government.
“The entire administration was in agreement that this was something that had to be done. This was something that needed to tell Assad, ‘Enough is enough,'” she said.
“And this is something to let Russia know, ‘You know what? We’re not going to have you cover for this regime anymore. And we’re not going to allow things like this to happen to innocent people.'”
She went on to say that the United States will not allow Russian President Vladimir Putin to “have Assad’s back anymore.”
Tillerson asks Russia to drop support for Assad
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who is set to visit Moscow this week, on Sunday demanded that Moscow stop supporting the Assad government.
“I hope Russia is thinking carefully about its continued alliance with Bashar al-Assad, because every time one of these horrific attacks occurs, it draws Russia closer into some level of responsibility,” Tillerson told ABC News.
The United States and its allies have repeatedly used chemical weapons as a pretext to pressure the Syrian government, despite the fact that Damascus volunteered to destroy its chemical stockpile in 2014 following a poisonous attack outside the capital. The deal was brokered by the US and Russia in 2013.
Tillerson accused Moscow of failing to enforce the 2013 agreement meant to get Syria rid of its chemical arsenal.
“I’m disappointed because I think the real failure here has been Russia’s failure to live up to its commitments under the chemical weapons agreements that were entered into in 2013,” he said.
“Both by the Syrian government and by Russia as the guarantor to play the role in Syria of securing chemical weapons, destroying the chemical weapons and continuing to monitor that situation,” he added.
‘Russia also responsible for April 4 chemical incident’
The top US diplomat said the April 4 chemical incident happened because of Russia’s failure “to achieve its commitment to the international community.”
“I hope Russia is thinking carefully about its continued alliance with Bashar al-Assad,” he added, “because every time one of these horrific attacks occurs, it draws Russia closer into some level of responsibility.”
The allegations of chemical arms use are still made against Syria even as the dismantling of the country’s entire stockpile of chemical weapons as well as relevant production facilities was supervised by the United Nations.
Foreign-backed militants have repeatedly used chemical weapons against Syrian troops, some of which have been verified by UN officials, but the attacks have often been ignored by Western governments.
In December 2015, a cousin of former Libyan ruler Muammar Gaddafi said that chemical weapons used in Ghouta which were blamed on the Syrian government were in fact stolen from Libya and later smuggled into Syria via Turkey.