The Australian prime minister has given strong support for the military response to Syria’s use of chemical weapons and urged Russia to exercise its authority to ensure the weapons are destroyed.
At a press conference on Sunday, Malcolm Turnbull said the Australian government was a strong supporter of the “targeted, proportionate and responsible action by the United States, France and the United Kingdom in targeting three chemical weapons sites in Syria yesterday”.
“The use of chemical weapons is a crime,” Turnbull told reporters. “It cannot be tolerated. And we call on Russia, which is the sponsor of Syria, to use its influence to ensure that this most recent chemical weapons attack … is thoroughly investigated.”
Turnbull labelled the chemical weapons attack an “atrocity by the Assad government” and a “shocking crime” that is believed to have killed up to 75 people.
The Australian prime minister criticised Russia for using its United Nations security council veto to block motions to investigate the chemical weapons crime and to ensure it cannot be repeated.
“It is time that Russia played a responsible role,” Turnbull said. “It has all of the influence and authority over the Syrian government that it needs to ensure that these crimes are not committed.”
Russia should “should stop all the denial and the pretence that it wasn’t an action by the Syrian government and ensure that the chemical weapons [are] destroyed”, he said.
Turnbull said no Australian aircraft or military assets were involved because they were “not required”. But Australia is committed to working with its partners and allies to stop the criminal use of chemical weapons “whether it is in Syria or on a park bench in Salisbury in the United Kingdom”.
Turnbull said he spoke to UK prime minister, Theresa May, on Saturday night to discuss the conduct of the Syrian government and “the use of a nerve agent by agents of Russia or by Russia directly, in Salisbury”.
“Of course there we made a coordinated response of expelling Russian diplomats, we showed great solidarity as a global community to absolutely say … there will be no tolerance of this type of criminal activity.”
Asked if Australia could be called on to send fighter jets, Turnbull noted that its superhornets had just returned from the Middle East although Australia continues to provide training to the defence forces and police in Iraq.
“We have a continued commitment and we are obviously talking to our ally, the United States, constantly,” he said.