Syria missile strike: Assad regime change Trump administration priority, Nikki Haley says

Regime change in Syria is one of the top priorities of Donald Trump’s administration, US United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley says, doubling down on comments made by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson last week.

“We don’t see a peaceful Syria with [President Bashar al-Assad] in there,” Ms Haley told CNN in a interview to be aired on Sunday (local time).

Ms Haley’s comments came as Mr Tillerson said he saw no reason for Russia to retaliate over US missile strikes on a Syrian air base last week. Mr Tillerson said Washington’s first priority remained the defeat of Islamic State (IS).

Once the threat from IS has been reduced or eliminated, “I think we can turn our attention directly to stabilising the situation in Syria,” Mr Tillerson said. “If we can achieve ceasefires in zones of stabilisation in Syria … we hope we will have the conditions to begin a useful political process.”

Although Moscow has strongly condemned the missile strikes, Mr Tillerson said he saw no reason for retaliation as the Russians were not targeted. Russia maintains a close political and military alliance with the Assad Government and has been accused of supporting its attacks against Syrians opposed to his rule — something Moscow adamantly denies.

While discussions about Syria were taking place in Washington, Turkey’s private Dogan News Agency (DHA) reported that a frigate belonging to the Russian Navy passed through the Turkish strait, heading to the eastern Mediterranean sea.

The frigate Admiral Grigorovich, which had taken part in Russian operations in Syria the year before, took about three hours to pass through the strait and reach the Aegean Sea. The vessel is equipped with cruise missiles and is part of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon said a Navy carrier strike group was moving toward the western Pacific Ocean to provide a physical presence near the Korean Peninsula in the wake of recent ballistic missile tests by North Korea.

Assad regime a ‘client state’ of Russia, Turnbull says Australia was also increasing pressure on Russia to help bring the Syrian conflict to an end.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said the Assad regime must be brought into line after last week’s chemical gas attack. “The onus is now on Russia to pull Assad into line,” Mr Turnbull said. “Let’s be quite clear, the Assad regime is a client state of Russia.”

Defence Minister Marise Payne said the US was yet to ask Australia for more military assistance in the Syrian conflict, but was keeping the Government updated on developments.

“We absolutely support the efforts of the United Nations to find [a] resolution [in Syria] and we strongly urge Russia and Iran and other supporters of the regime to engage and to try to identify a solution,” she said.

Australia will also continue to closely monitor developments in Syria after Russia stopped using a military communications line used to avoid mid-air incidents.

Ms Payne said she would be meeting with senior members of the US-led coalition in coming weeks.

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