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US missile strike in Syria: Europe reacts

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French President Francois Hollande delivers a speech about the situation in Syria in Annonay, south-eastern France, on April 7, 2017. AFP/Philippe Desmazes

After Friday's early morning missile strike, it's hard to predict the next moves by US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. The UK, France and Germany have all come out in support of the US move, while Russia and Iran have condemned it. RFI's Thomas Wheeldon takes a closer look.


French President Francois Hollande was quick to respond on Friday, releasing a joint statement with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The French head of state said that Trump’s approach should be pursued at the United Nations (UN) level if possible. This, he hopes, will lead to negotiations at the UN for a transition of power away from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Hollande has always been hawkish on Assad. But there are various reasons why the French President isn't so influential any more, especially seeing as he’s leaving office in a matter of weeks.

What’s more, General Dominique Trinquand, former head of UN military missions, highlights that Hollande “was not asked” by the US President for French participation in the airstrikes.

“Mr Trump is acting on national grounds and was just warning his ally that he will attack. That’s it,” says Trinquand.

Strategical change-up

Hollande was keen to strike against Assad in 2013, but the situation has changed since then. Four years ago the US and France were willing to punish Assad's use of chemical weapons, but then US president Barack Obama called off strikes at the last minute.

In the meantime it's become more difficult for the West to force Assad into the transition of power Hollande was talking about. “For the last three years, the Russian forces have supported the Syrian government, and they have put them in the best position,” says Trinquand.

Now, with the US and Russia each taking big unilateral decisions on Syria, European leaders are being effectively pushed to the sidelines. While the latter are mostly anti-Assad, they're also wary towards President Trump, so they may well want to stay on those sidelines.

“On the one hand, the Europeans are probably quite relieved that President Trump has reacted to the use of chemical weapons – that he has not allowed himself to be distracted by his desire to improve relations with the Russians,” says Quentin Peel of UK think tank Chatham House.

“But on the other hand, I think the Europeans are quite nervous about having an American president who really just seems to react by the seat of his pants.”

It's the egos of Trump and Putin that are dominating the action. What happens depends on how big a commitment Trump might make against the Assad government. Last night's strike could just be a one-off, but if that's not the case, then Putin will not like the US trying to take down his ally.

The Europeans' biggest role may well be as cool-headed negotiators between the two.