(CN) – With some exceptions, international leaders expressed their support on Friday for the U.S. air strikes on Syria last night, while Congressional Democrats called for House Speaker Paul Ryan to hold a special session to discuss the next steps in dealing with the Syrian crisis.
In New York Britain’s ambassador to the United Nations stressed his country’s strong support for the air strikes on Syria and repudiated Russia for its protection of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime.
Matthew Rycroft called on Russia to end its “protection of a war criminal,” and join Western powers seeking to impose sanctions on Assad’s regime.
He said, “Russia sits here today humiliated by its failure to bring to bear a puppet dictator entirely propped up by Russia.”
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also issued a statement, saying his government supports “the resolve of the U.S. government of never tolerating the proliferation and use of chemical weapons.”
Meanwhile in Washington, DC on Friday morning, lawmakers debated over whether or not the president’s latest actions needed congressional approval.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called for end to the 18-day congressional recess which began last night.
In a letter submitted to Speaker Ryan, Pelosi said that president’s actions demanded that Congress hold a debate on the authorization of the use of military force against a sovereign nation.
“As heartbreaking as Assad’s chemical weapons attack on his own people was, the crisis in Syria will not be resolved by one night of airstrikes,” Pelosi wrote. “The killing will not stop without a comprehensive political solution to end the violence. The American people are owed a comprehensive strategy with clear objectives to keep our brave men and women in uniform safe and avoid collateral damage to innocent civilians in Syria.”
President Donald Trump ordered the strike on Syrian government targets in retaliation for the chemical weapon attack on civilians in Idlib, Syria earlier this week that left 80 people, many of them women and children, dead.
President Donald Trump said Thursday night that there is “no dispute” Syria used chemical weapons on its own people earlier this week and that the missile strike was in the ‘vital national security interest’ of the United States.
Trump also called on “civilized nations: to join U.S. in “seeking to end the slaughter and bloodshed in Syria,” according to reporters traveling with the president.
The attack was launched at about 8:45 p.m. eastern time Thursday night — about sunrise in the Middle East — from two U.S. warships in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. It consisted of the launch of 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles, according to an administration official, speaking on background.
They are reportedly striking the Shayrat airbase in Homs province, which is the site from which the planes that conducted the chemical attack are believed to have originated.
It is President Trump’s first use of force since he assumed office and is the first time the White House has ordered military action against forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
On Wednesday, Trump had said he was shocked by the gruesome photos and videos he saw of the carnage caused by the chemical attack and that al-Assad and his forces “crossed a lot of lines for me.”
“I will tell you … my attitude toward Syria and Assad has changed very much,” Trump said during a news conference at the White House Wednesday.
“When you kill innocent children — innocent babies — little babies with a chemical gas that is so lethal, people were shocked to hear what gas it was, that crosses many, many lines. Beyond a red line, many, many lines,” the president said.
President Barack Obama launched airstrikes against sites in Syria in September 2014 as part of a coalition campaign against the Islamic State group, but those strikes only targeted the terrorist group and not Syrian government forces.
UN Secretary General Syria António Guterres issued a statement Friday saying he is following the situation in Syria closely and “with grave concern.”
“I was abhorred by the chemical weapons attack in Khan Shaykhun, Syria, and the death and injury of many innocent civilians. I have long stated that there needs to be accountability for such crimes, in line with existing international norms and Security Council resolutions,” Guterres said. “Mindful of the risk of escalation, I appeal for restraint to avoid any acts that could deepen the suffering of the Syrian people. ”
Gutteres also called for all parties involved to review their commitment to making progress in the Geneva Talks.
“A political solution also remains essential for progress in the fight against terrorism. The Security Council has the primary responsibility for international peace and security. I call on the Council to unite and exercise that responsibility. For too long, international law has been ignored in the Syrian conflict, and it is our shared duty to uphold international standards of humanity. This is a prerequisite to ending the unrelenting suffering of the people of Syria,” he said.
Russia condemned the U.S. missile strike and considered it an attack on its ally according to Russian officials. The Kremlin also suspended its 2015 pact with U.S. which minimized the risk of in-flight incidents among coalition and Russian aircraft operating in Syrian airspace.
A spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s said that risk of confrontation between the U.S. and Russia has “significantly increased” since the launch.
Predictably, Assad also condemned the missile strike, calling it “unjust and arrogant aggression” that would only renew his government’s vigor in crushing militant offshoots in Syria.
Trump met with his national security team shortly before sitting down to dinner with Chinese President Xi at Mar-a-Lago in Florida.
According to White House pool reports, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Defense Secretary James Mattis, and national security advisor Gen. H.R. McMaster are all with Trump in Florida.
During a press briefing late Thursday night, Tillerson called Trump’s launch a “very decisive action.”
McMaster also weighed in saying that the airfield was selected because the administration was able to trace “the murderous act back to that facility.”
“What [the strike] does communicate is a big shift, a big shift in Assad’s calculus. It should be anyway because this is the first time that the United States has taken direct military action against that regime or the regime of his father,” McMaster said.
The general added that in the context of all previous chemical attacks which have occurred — he estimated Assad’s regime is responsible for 50 such incidents since 2013 — Thursday night’s launch was the right move to upend the Syrian leader’s military capability.
Tillerson also told reporters that as Trump evaluated his first attack, he was measured and unemotional.
“I do not view it as emotional reaction at all. As President Trump evaluated this first attack, these attacks occurred on his watch and reflected upon the prior responses or lack of responses he came to the conclusion that we could not yet again turn away and turn a blind eye to what’s happened,” the secretary of state said.
Tillerson emphasized that administration’s primary concerns for now is responding to the use of such chemical weapons. The less response, he argued, the more they are normalized.
“And when we begin to normalize their use we are opening up wider spread use by others who would use such weapons. I don’t think we should in any way diminish the risk of the situation in Syria where there is a lot of chaos on the ground,” he said. “There are elements on the ground in Syria, elements that are plotting to reach our shore and these type of weapons falling into their hands and being brought to our shore is a direct threat to the American people.”
Regarding the future of U.S. diplomatic relations with Russia, Turkey and the Kurds who are spread out in the region, Tillerson said that he expects “all of those parties, with the exception of Bashar al-Assad and perhaps Russia, I think, are going to applaud this particular action.”
The end game is defeat ISIS, according to the secretary.
“By defeating ISIS we remove one of the disruptive elements in Syria that exists today. That begins to clarify for us opposition forces and regime forces and working with the coalition, as you know there is a large coalition of international players and allies who are involved in the future resolution in Syria,” Tillerson said.
Cease fire agreements between the Syrian regime forces and their opposition would stabilize southern Syria and areas around Raqqa, he said, before adding that help may be on the way for locals.
Local leaders, including those who have left as refugees, are already returning to Syria to govern and help in liberation efforts, Tillerson explained. Those who return would help in the development of local security forces, law enforcement and police forces.
“In the midst of that, through the Geneva process, we will start a political process to resolve Syria’s future in terms of its governance structure and that ultimately in our view will lead to a resolution of Basher al-Assad’s departure,” he said.