US losing allies?

Turkey's ever-closer ties with Russia leave US lacking key ally on Syria

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Macron is now Trump's anchor in Europe

By Diane Cooke

After footage of a purported chemical attack on the Damascus suburb of Douma hit screens worldwide on April 7, US President Donald Trump knew whom to call in Europe.

Trump spoke twice in 24 hours with French President Emmanuel Macron about what he called the atrocity in Syria. Three days passed before the U.S. president spoke with another world leader about a response.

Macron’s status as head of the European Union’s foremost military power gives him a leg up over other EU chiefs who are often derided by Trump: France’s prime minister, foreign minister and government spokesman have all indicated that France would join the US in a punitive strike against the Syrian regime.

The French prime minister, Édouard Philippe, has called for a “strong, united and resolute” reaction from the international community to the chemical attack in Douma, a Syrian rebel-held town on the outskirts of Damascus.

Philippe said Paris’ response to the attack would define France as a nation. “The use of these weapons is not neutral; it says things about the regime and our reaction to the use of these weapons will say things about who we are,” he told parliament.

Philippe said allies of the Syrian regime bore “particular responsibility in this massacre”, alluding to Russia.

French president Macron, has repeatedly promised that proven chemical weapons use is a “red line” that would prompt French strikes on Syrian government forces, and that Paris is prepared to act alone.

Trump’s appreciation of Macron and French military hard-power contrasts with the Barack Obama years, when Germany was seen as Europe’s principal player because of its dominant economy and Chancellor Angela Merkel’s leadership role.

“France was a secondary player for eight years because the Americans thought that Berlin was the capital of Europe,” said Martin Quencez, senior program officer at the German Marshall Fund of the U.S. in Paris. “Macron is now Trump’s anchor in Europe.”

Meanwhile, British Prime Minister Theresa May has exercised caution in the matter. She is resisting a rush to bomb Syria without seeing more evidence President Bashar Al Assad is to blame for the chemical attack on civilians.

The Prime Minister told Donald Trump earlier this week that she backed an international response to the attack and would work with allies to find out what happened.

But the Downing Street account of the call with the US President said an attack should only go ahead if Syrian culpability is 'confirmed'. A White House report of the call did not make the same point.

Yesterday, a team from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) was due to deploy to Syria "shortly" to determine whether banned weapons were used in Douma.

In an incendiary Tweet Mr Trump warned Russia to 'get ready' because American cruise missiles 'will be coming'.

‘‘Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria,’’ Trump tweeted. ‘‘Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and ‘smart!’ You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!’’

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Turkey's ever-closer ties with Russia leave US lacking key ally on Syria

As the prospect grows of military confrontation with Russia in the skies over Syria, the US is counting on support from European partners such as France and the UK. But help from a key regional ally - Turkey - is less certain, despite its position on Syria's northern border and opposition to Bashar al-Assad's regime.

There are echoes of 2003, when Turkey refused to back the US-led invasion of Iraq. Whose side Turkey is on is a question increasingly exercising Washington policymakers as Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey's president, builds closer ties with Russia.

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