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Nikki Haley Asks Russia 'How Many More Children Have To Die' After Syria Gas Attack

06/04/2017 8:16 AM AEST | Updated 06/04/2017 8:29 AM AEST

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley issued sharp criticism Wednesday of Russian actions in Syria, asking the U.N. Security Council, "How many more children have to die before Russia cares?"

Haley's statement was a response to a chemical weapons attack the day before in Syria's Idlib province that killed scores of people, including many children, and provoked international condemnation. The U.S. alleges that Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime was behind the killings, dropping sarin gas from its aircraft on the town of Khan Sheikhoun.

Russia has tried to absolve its Syrian ally of responsibility for the attack, saying that rebel fighters possessed the gas and that bombs merely hit a depot storing the agent. Chemical weapons experts and Syria analysts, however, say the Kremlin's claim is untrue and does not fit the facts of how sarin gas actually works.

Haley, who at certain points in her address held up photos showing the bodies of children killed in the attack, also scoffed at Russia's allegation that rebels were at fault.

"Time and time again, Russia uses the same false narrative to deflect attention from their allies in Damascus. Time and time again, without any factual basis, Russia attempts to place blame on others," Haley said. "The truth is that Assad, Russia, and Iran have no interest in peace."

Haley gave her speech at an emergency session of the U.N. Security Council, where the U.S., Britain and France proposed a draft resolution that blames Assad for the attack. Russia is expected to use its veto power to shoot down the resolution, as it has repeatedly done on past occasions when the council aimed to introduce measures against the Syrian government.

Haley concluded her speech with the vague suggestion that the U.S. may act unilaterally if the U.N. fails to respond to Syria's chemical weapon violations. "There are times in the life of states that we are compelled to take our own action," she said.

Shannon Stapleton / Reuters
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley sits during a meeting at the United Nations Security Council on Syria at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City, April 5, 2017.

In her few months as U.N. ambassador, Haley, formerly the Republican governor of South Carolina, has issued staunch condemnations of Russia's foreign policy. Her first public remarks at the council included placing blame on the Kremlin for instigating a surge in violence in eastern Ukraine, and she has said that Russia was involved in the 2016 presidential election. Haley's message at the U.N. has often been starkly different from President Donald Trump's expressions of admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin and his talk of detente with Russia.

Parts of Haley's remarks on Wednesday closely echoed a speech that former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power gave in December, when she rebuked Russia, Iran, and Assad for their part in atrocities during the battle for the Syrian city of Aleppo.

"Are you truly incapable of shame? Is there literally nothing that can shame you?" Power asked then. "Is there no act of barbarism against civilians, no execution of a child, that gets under your skin?"

Despite Haley's comments, it's unclear whether the U.S. will go beyond condemnations in terms of taking action against Assad or pressuring Russia to use its influence to push for a peace process in Syria. The U.S. and the international community have for years issued harsh denunciations of the Syrian government, and of Russia's military intervention, but these have resulted in few concrete actions.

Trump also addressed the attack Wednesday, saying that his "attitude toward Syria and Assad has changed very much" following the gas attack. But the president refused to go into detail about whether the U.S. would take any actions to respond to the killings.

"I'm not saying I'm doing anything one way or the other," Trump told reporters.

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