North Korea has said US missile strikes against a Syrian airfield on Friday were “an unforgivable act of aggression” that showed its decision to develop nuclear weapons was “the right choice a million times over”.
- North Korea said US strikes vindicated decision to strengthen military power
- Kim Jong-un has exchanged pledges of friendship and cooperation with Bashar al-Assad
- Mr Trump earlier spoke of an “outstanding” relationship with North Korea’s ally China
The response by North Korea’s foreign ministry, carried by the official KCNA news agency, was the first since US warships in the Mediterranean Sea launched dozens of missiles at a Syrian air base which the Pentagon says was involved in a chemical weapons attack earlier in the week.
“The US missile attack against Syria is a clear and unforgivable act of aggression against a sovereign state and we strongly condemn this,” KCNA quoted an unnamed spokesman for the North Korean foreign ministry as saying.
“The reality of today proves our decision to strengthen our military power to stand against force with force was the right choice a million times over,” KCNA said.
Diplomatically-isolated North Korea considers Syria a key ally.
KCNA said its leader, Kim Jong-un, and Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad exchanged messages of warm wishes and pledges of friendship and cooperation between the two countries.
Mr Assad thanked Mr Kim for recognising the Syrian struggle to “meet such challenges as sinister actions of the world’s terrorists, and encouraged Syria to successfully weather the crisis without fail,” KCNA said.
Syria denies it carried out the chemical attack.
The US strikes came as President Donald Trump hosted Chinese President Xi Jinping in Florida to press the leader of North Korea’s sole diplomatic ally to do more to curb Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions.
North Korea is believed to be developing missiles capable of hitting the United States and a nuclear arsenal in defiance of UN sanctions.
It has conducted five nuclear tests — two since the beginning of last year — and scores of missile tests.
US ready to carry out further strikes
US Navy Admiral Michelle Howard said the cruise missile strikes had destroyed the means to deliver chemical weapons from the air base targeted, and the US military remained ready to carry out further strikes if needed.
Admiral Howard said the US had decided to launch the strikes after the United Nations failed to pass a resolution condemning a deadly chemical weapons attack that killed scores of people in rebel-held Khan Sheikhoun.
“We conducted strikes against an air field which was the means by which the chemicals were launched into the air. Those means don’t exist now,” Admiral Howard said.
UK Foreign Secretary cancels Russia visit
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson cancelled a planned trip to Russia because of fast-moving events in Syria.
Mr Johnson said the situation in Syria has changed “fundamentally” following the chemical attack and the US response.
He condemned Russia’s continued defence of Mr Assad “even after the chemical weapons attack on innocent civilians”.
He had planned to travel to Russia on Monday on a trip intended to start a fresh dialogue with Moscow.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson plans to meet with G-7 foreign ministers in Europe next week before going on to Moscow.
Syrian government TV shows the burned and damaged hangar and warplanes at the Shayrat airbase. (AP: Syrian Government TV)
Mr Johnson said Mr Tillerson would be able to give a “clear and coordinated message to the Russians”.
In Damascus, dozens of Syrian students gathered outside the offices of the United Nations to protest the US missile attack.
The protesters in the capital held banners and chanted “Death to America” and “Death to Israel”.
One of the banners they carried read: “The Iraqi scenario will not be repeated in Syria.” They were referring to the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq after Washington said Saddam Hussein was hiding weapons of mass destruction — a belief that later turned out to be incorrect.
University student Ashraf Fadel said he came to denounce “the unjust American aggression against Syria”.
He added that the United Nations was “created to support America instead of serving the wronged people”.
Elsewhere in Syria, activists opposed to the Islamic State group said a US-led coalition airstrike hit a boat carrying civilians fleeing across the Euphrates River.
The groups Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently and Sound and Picture said the attack killed a woman and her six children.
The attack occurred in the Shuaib al-Zeker area, near where US-backed Syrian fighters have been on the offensive against IS under the cover of coalition airstrikes.
Activists and state media said a separate airstrike by the US-led coalition on the northern IS-held village of Hneida killed at least 14 civilians, including children.
The Observatory said 15 people, including four children, were killed in the airstrike.
The Sound and Picture group said the airstrike hit an internet cafe, killing 14 people.
In Saudi Arabia, the official Saudi Press Agency reported that President Trump has spoken by telephone with King Salman about the US missile strike on Syria.
The news agency reported that during the Friday phone call, the Saudi monarch congratulated Mr Trump for his “courageous decision”.
Saudi Arabia said the missile launch was the right response to “the crimes of this regime to its people in light of the failure of the international community to stop it”.
The kingdom is among the most vehement opponents of Assad and supports Sunni rebel groups fighting to oust him.
The Sunni rulers of Saudi Arabia are in a power struggle for regional dominance with Iran’s Shiite government.