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U.S., France and U.K. Strike Syria's Chemical Weapons Program; British Prime Minister Theresa May's Address. Aired 4-5a ET

Aired April 14, 2018 - 04:00   ET




UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): This is CNN breaking news.

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): 4:00 am on the East Coast. We continue following the breaking news this hour here on CNN. I'm George Howell.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): And I'm Natalie Allen.

The U.S., U.K. and France say they have launched military strikes against Syria and its chemical weapons program. British prime minister Theresa May is due to speak about the airstrikes at any moment. And we'll bring you her remarks live from 10 Downing Street when they happen.

Meantime, this video showed the scene in Damascus earlier. It appears to show weapons of some kind streaking across the sky. We know aircraft, missiles and warships were used in the strikes.

This video was posted online by the French armed forces minister. It shows a cruise missile being launched from a frigate in the Mediterranean. Its target was repeatedly a chemical weapons production site.

HOWELL: Here's how Syrian air defenses then responded. The Syrian military says more than 100 missiles were fired. It claims the majority were intercepted but some hit their targets. The strikes were ordered in response to the suspected chemical attack last week.

Here is how President Trump announced the operation.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My fellow Americans, a short time ago, I ordered the United States Armed Forces to launch precision strikes on targets associated with the chemical weapons capabilities of Syrian dictator, Bashar al-Assad.

The purpose of our actions tonight is to establish a strong deterrent against the production, spread and use of chemical weapons. Establishing this deterrent is a vital national security interest of the United States. (END VIDEO CLIP)

HOWELL: The United States says the operation targeted at least three sites. They include the research center near Damascus, a chemical weapons storage facility west of Homs and a nearby command post and storage facility. CNN, of course, following the story with our correspondents around the world, every angle of this story.

Let's start with our senior international correspondent Fred Pleitgen live in Beirut.

What is the reaction you're hearing from the region and Syria following these strikes?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, of course, there was a lot of commotion in Damascus when these strikes took place and a lot of fear as well. There are people that I'm speaking to on the ground, who said that they were actually awake at the time and then, all of a sudden, heard these missiles coming; apparently it was a very loud affair and did lead to a lot of fear among a lot of people.

But now that daylight has set in, I think a lot of people in Syria are slowly believing that the strikes were a lot less potent than many of them would have thought. We mentioned one place that was hit was a military research facility called Barzeh in the north of Damascus. That entire area is one giant military facility known as the Qasioun Mountain military facility.

Some people believe other sites there might have been targeted as well but certainly that research facility, the U.S. says and Syrian government says, was one of the places that was targeted.

Again, the Syrian government is saying that more than 110 missiles were fired toward Syrian territory, they say the majority were intercepted but they did say that that specific facility was hit.

They say that there was only material damage, no people killed or wounded. But they certainly acknowledge that there was a hit on that place. And also in and around Homs, there were apparently storage facilities that were hit as well.

The Syrian government, for its part, is saying that most of those missiles were intercepted but that some went off course after being intercepted and apparently some civilians were wounded. That is what the Syrian government is saying.

But they are also trying to display a sense of calm. There were some pictures of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, posted on the official Twitter account of the Syrian presidency, of him seemingly casually walking to work at around 9:00 am local time this morning.

And we're also hearing that apparently now in Damascus the situation is quite calm. There was a small demonstration in front of the Syrian defense ministry against the airstrikes. And we're also hearing that apparently some Syrian jets have been in the air there as well, seemingly as a show of force after these strikes took place.

HOWELL: Is there is a sense there in the region that this is just a one-time thing?

Or is there concern that there could be more?

PLEITGEN: People always wonder whether or not there might be more. But I think that right now, if you look at the region and also Syria, they believe that this is probably a one-off event.

It is interesting because you're getting mixed messages coming from the U.S. with some officials saying that this was a one-off strike, that this is over, but others saying that it could be an ongoing thing, qualifying that and saying --


PLEITGEN: -- if chemical weapons are used again. But I think that most people believe that this was a one-off.

And I think the other thing that is really important to note in all this, I think most people think this was an event that did try to strike some of these facilities but at the same time made sure to not start some major conflict between the U.S. and Russia.

In fact, Russia is saying none of their air defense systems had to be employed; these strikes happened far away from their area of responsibility. In fact, the Russians are even gloating and saying that the Syrian military used weapons that were made in the USSR in the 1970s to take down some of these state-of-the-art, modern Tomahawk missiles that the U.S. fired.

So it certainly seems a larger conflict for now has been avoided. I think that's the sense that we get here in this region. Whether or not it is a one-off at this point is not clear but it certainly seems as though these strikes were a lot less lethal and a lot less strong than many people in Syria and in this region had anticipated.

HOWELL: At 11:05 am in the morning there in Beirut, Lebanon, and that's the reaction from the region. For our viewers, as you see in the box there, we're monitoring from the United Kingdom the response from the British prime minister.

Fred, thank you for the reporting and we'll stay in touch with you as well.

ALLEN: In his address, President Trump had a stern warning for Iran and Russia in the wake of last weekend's deadly chemical attack.


TRUMP: I also have a message tonight for the two governments most responsible for supporting, equipping and financing the criminal Assad regime.

To Iran and to Russia, I ask: What kind of a nation wants to be associated with the mass murder of innocent men, women and children?

The nations of the world can be judged by the friends they keep.

Russia must decide if it will continue down this dark path, or if it will join with civilized nations as a force for stability and peace. Hopefully, someday we'll get along with Russia and maybe even Iran - but maybe not.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ALLEN: That was the president's message to the two countries.

Well, Iran responded to the airstrikes, saying "The attack is the blatant violation of international laws as well as ignoring the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria."

HOWELL: Russia's ambassador to the United States had a warning of his own. In a tweet he said, " A pre-designed scenario is being implemented. Again, we are being threatened. We warn that such actions will not be left without consequences. All responsibility for them rests with Washington, London and Paris."

ALLEN: For more from Moscow, let's go live to Sam Kiley. He is there.

Sam, both Iran and Russia, two countries aggressive goals in the region to say the least, now brazenly criticizing the West for...

Actually, I'll get to you in a moment. Let's go to Theresa May. She is walking to the podium now. Here's her reaction.

THERESA MAY, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: Last night, British, French and American armed forces conducted coordinated and targeted strikes to degrade the Syrian regime's chemical weapons capability and deter their use.

For U.K.'s part, four RAF Tornado GR4s launched Storm Shadow missiles at a military facility some 15 miles west of Homs, where the regime is assessed to keep chemical weapons in breach of Syria's obligations under the chemical weapons convention.

While the full assessment of the strike is ongoing, we are confident of its success. Let me set out why we have taken this action.

Last Saturday up to 75 people, including young children, were killed in this despicable and barbaric attack in Douma with as many as 500 further casualties. We have worked with our allies to establish what happened. And all the indications are that this was a chemical weapons attack.

We have seen the harrowing images of men, women and children, lying dead with foam in their mouths. These were innocent families, who, at the time this chemical weapon was unleashed, were seeking shelter underground in basements.

First-hand accounts from NGOs and aid workers have detailed the most horrific suffering, including burns to the eyes, suffocation and skin discoloration, with a chlorine-like odor surrounding the victims.

And the World Health Organization has received reports that hundreds of patients arrived at Syrian health facilities on Saturday night with signs and symptoms consistent with exposure to toxic --


MAY: -- chemicals. We are also clear about who was responsible for this atrocity. A significant body of information, including intelligence, indicates the Syrian regime is responsible for this latest attack. I cannot tell you everything. But let me give an example of some of the evidence that leads us to this conclusion.

Open source accounts allege that a barrel bomb was used to deliver the chemicals. Multiple open source reports claim that a regime helicopter was observed above the city of Douma on the evening of the 7th of April.

The opposition does not operate helicopters or use barrel bombs. And reliable intelligence indicates that Syrian military officials coordinated what appears to be the use of chlorine in Douma on the 7th of April. No other group could have carried out this attack. And daish does not even have a presence in Douma.

And the fact of this attack should surprise no one. We know that the Syrian regime has an utterly abhorrent record of using chemical weapons against its own people. On the 21st of August, 2013, over 800 people were killed and thousands more injured in a chemical attack, also in Ghouta.

There were 14 further smaller-scale chemical attacks prior to that summer. At Khan Shaykhun on the 4th of April last year, the Syrian regime used sarin against its people, killing 100 with a further 500 casualties.

And based on the regime's persistent pattern of behavior and the cumulative analysis of specific incidents, we judge it highly likely both that the Syrian regime has continued to use chemical weapons since then and will continue to do so. This must be stopped.

We have sought to do so using every diplomatic channel but our efforts have been repeatedly thwarted, both on the ground and in the United Nations. Following the sarin attack in Damascus back in August 2013, the Syrian regime committed to dismantle its chemical weapon program and Russia promised to ensure that Syria did this overseen by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. But these commitments have not been met.

A recent report from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has said that Syria's declaration of its former chemical weapons program is incomplete. This indicates that it continues to retain undeclared stocks of nerve agent (INAUDIBLE) of chemicals and is likely to be continuing with some chemical weapons production.

The OPCW inspectors have investigated previous attacks and, on four occasions, decided that the regime was indeed responsible. And on each occasion, when we have seen every sign of chemical weapons being used, any attempt to hold the perpetrators to account has been blocked by Russia at the U.N. Security Council, with six such vetoes since the start of 2017.

Just this week, the Russians vetoed a draft resolution that would have established an independent investigation into this latest attack, even making the grotesque and absurd claim that it was staged by Britain. So we have no choice but to conclude that diplomatic action on its own will not be any more effective in the future than it has been in the past.

Over the last week, the U.K. government has been working intensively with our international partners to build the evidence picture and to consider what action we need to take to prevent and deter future humanitarian catastrophes caused by chemical weapons attacks.

When the cabinet met on Thursday, we considered the advice of the attorney general, the national security adviser and the chief of the defense staff. And we were updated on the latest intelligence picture.

And based on this advice, we agreed that it was both right and legal to take military action, together with our closest allies, to alleviate further humanitarian suffering by degrading the Syrian regime's chemical weapons capability and deterring their use.

This was not about interfering in a civil war and it was not about regime change. As I discussed with President Trump and President Macron, it was a limited targeted and effective strike with clear boundaries that expressly sought to avoid escalation and did everything possible to prevent civilian casualties.

Together we have hit a specific and limited set of targets.


MAY: They were a chemical weapons storage and production facility, a key chemical weapons research center and a military bunker involved in chemical weapons attacks. Hitting these targets with the force that we have deployed will significantly degrade the Syrian regime's ability to deploy chemical weapons.

A year ago after the attack on khan Shaykhun, the U.S. conducted a strike on the airfield from which the attack took place. But Assad and his regime hasn't stopped their use of chemical weapons.

So last night's strikes by the U.S., U.K. and France were significantly larger than the U.S. action a year ago and specifically designed to have a greater impact on the regime's capability and willingness to use chemical weapons.

And this collective action sends a clear message that the international community will not stand by and tolerate the use of chemical weapons.

I also want to be clear that this military action to deter the use the chemical weapons does not stand alone. We must remain committed to resolving the conflict at large. The best hope for the Syrian people remains a political solution. We need all partners, especially the regime and its backers, to enable humanitarian access to those in desperate need. And the U.K. will continue to strive for both.

But these strikes are about deterring the barbaric use of chemical weapons in Syria and beyond. So to achieve this, there must be a wider diplomatic effort, including the full range of political and economic levers, to strengthen the global norms prohibiting the use of chemical weapons which have stood for nearly a century.

Although of a much lower order of magnitude, the use of a nerve agent on the streets of the U.K. in recent weeks is part of a pattern of disregard for these norms. So while this action is specifically about deterring the Syrian regime, it will also send a clear signal to anyone else who believes that they can use chemical weapons with impunity.

There is no graver decision for a prime minister than to commit our forces to combat. And this is the first time that I've had to do so. As always, they have served our country with the greatest professionalism and bravery and we owe them a huge debt of gratitude.

We would have preferred an alternative path. But on this occasion there is none. We cannot allow the use of chemical weapons to become normalized either within Syria, on the streets of the U.K. or elsewhere. We must reinstate the global consensus that chemical weapons cannot be used.

This action is absolutely in Britain's national interest. The lesson of history is that, when the global rules and standards that keep us safe come under threat, we must take a stand and defend them. That is what our country has always done and that is what we will continue to do.

I'll take a number of questions.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you, prime minister.

Your logic is that chemical attacks must not go unpunished.

Will you do the same again if President Assad does the same again, as you have suggested he has?

And do you feel that you have the public's consent, given that you ever not even consulted MPs in Parliament?

MAY: As I said in my statement, the purpose of the action that took place last night was to degrade and deter the capability and willingness of the Syrian regime to use chemical weapons. As I also said, obviously, a full assessment has not yet been completed. But we believe that the action was successful.

But the Syrian regime should be under no doubt of our resolve in relation to this matter of the use of chemical weapons. And I have taken this decision because I believe that it is the right thing to do.

I believe it is in our national interests. But I believe it is also important for the international community to be very clear about this issue, that we have seen people appearing to think that they can use chemical weapons with impunity.

And we must restore the position that, as I said, has existed for nearly a century, that the use of chemical weapons is illegal, it is banned and we cannot accept it --


MAY: -- Tim.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Prime Minister.

You were hinting toward the end of your statement there about possible further wider action against supporters of the regime.

Can you explain why you haven't yet taken action against Russian money in London in the same way the United States have?

And on a linked point, we appear to be in a propaganda war.

Why have no ministers been out explaining what you're explaining today throughout this week when the Russian ambassador has been accusing London for culpability?

MAY: On the first point, and as I said, in response to the use of nerve agent on the streets of Salisbury, we are, of course, looking at every aspect of the action that can be taken.

We do in general work against illicit finances, criminal finances here in the U.K. And we will continue to do so.

You say that no minister has been out over the past week. I've given two television interviews over the past week, in which I've set out the need for action and the need for us to restore the international norm of the recognition that chemical weapons should not be used.

What I said in those interviews was that we were working with our international partners and allies to ascertain -- make the fullest possible assessment of what happened on the ground and then to ascertain what action was necessary. We've done that and the action that we saw last night into the early hours of this morning was the result of that work -- Adam.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Prime Minister, I wonder if you could explain a little more your decision and your thinking on not seeking prior approval or debate from Parliament on this decision. As you know, Jeremy Corbyn and, on the other side, Candace Clark (ph) have said that they feel that that should have taken place.

And there seems to be a broad sort of Tony Blair set of precedent as in back in 2003. MAY: As I said, I believe that this action was necessary and I believe it was the right thing for us to do. We have been working with our allies and partners over the past week, first to make the fullest possible assessment of what happened on the ground.

And then to consider what action was necessary. And to do that in a timely fashion, so that we could act with sufficient understanding of what had happened on the ground and proper planning of any action but to do so within a time scale that gave a very clear message to the regime.

And it was also important and I believe it is important as we are sending, it is one of the gravest things, the decision that a prime minister can take, is to send our service personnel into action, into combat and, when we do that, we owe to them that we, as far as possible, protect their safety and their security.

And for operational security reasons, it was right that we've acted in the way that we did. Properly plan this, assess what happened on the ground, properly plan it, act within a time scale that is right to both protect operational security and give a very clear message to the regime -- Robert.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You explicitly linked the overnight action to the poisonings in Salisbury.

Was the overnight action just about Assad or was it explicitly a warning to Russia as well?

The secretary general is warning that the Cold War is back and he is fearful we don't have the institutional structures to contain it.

How do we restore a sense of calm and security?

MAY: Well, first of all, I referred to the Salisbury -- what happened in Salisbury because it was the use of a chemical weapon, a nerve agent, on the streets of the United Kingdom. The action that took place last night was an action which was focused on degrading and deterring the operational capability and the willingness of the Syrian regime to continue to use chemical weapons.

As I said there have been many instances when we have seen them using those chemical weapons. But I believe that it will also be a message others that the international community will not stand by and allow chemical weapons to be used with impunity.

We have for nearly a century now had a general understanding under the chemical weapons convention that chemical weapons were illegal, that their use was banned. We have in recent times all too often seen chemical weapons been used and I think it is right that the international community high school come together and said --


MAY: -- that we will not accept this and given a clear message about -- that we want to re-establish that international norm that chemical weapons are banned and should not be used.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If chemical weapons are indeed used again in Syria, will the United Kingdom take part in more targeted strikes?

And if it is in the coming weeks Parliament will no longer be in recess, will you feel a bigger pressure to actually ask for that green light?

And how important is to you that President Macron is alongside, very much participating in this operation?

How you would you characterize the Franco-British entente about this separation?

MAY: Well, first of all on the parliament front -- and I should have -- I apologize -- should have made reference to this in answer to the previous question. I will be in Parliament on Monday to make a statement to Parliament and obviously to give parliamentarians the opportunity to question me about this.

I believe it was right to take the action that we have done in the timing that we have done, as I've indicated, in relation to assessment planning and operational security. And it was to send a very clear message about the use of these chemical weapons.

I believe that the action that is taken will have significantly degraded the capability of the Syrian regime to use chemical weapons. We want to deter their willingness to use chemical weapons as well. But they should be in no doubt of our resolve and I believe that that is an international resolve on these issues, to ensure that we do return to the situation where it is accepted that the use of chemical weapons is illegal, is banned, they should not be used.

I think obviously this has been a tripartite operation, with the United States, France and United Kingdom. You asked specifically the Franco-British relationship. I think we have a very good and close relationship on security and defense matters. That was enhanced in the Franco-British summit that we had earlier this year. We have been, over recent years, working increasingly closely together on these defense matters.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: With respect, Prime Minister, (INAUDIBLE), if there are more chemical weapons attacks in Syria the coming weeks, will you authorize and instruct (INAUDIBLE) to carry out more targeted strikes without a green light from Parliament?

MAY: As I said in relation to this, I will be going to Parliament and will be taking -- making a statement in Parliament.

On the wider issue, I did address the wider issue of this was a limited and targeted strike that took place last night or series of strikes that took place last night by the three partners.

But nobody should be in any doubt of our resolve on this issue, which is to ensure that we see a return to that international norm on the prohibition of the use of chemical weapons. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Syrian civil war has seen a huge displacement of people from the Middle East toward the West. I'm wondering if you think that your action today and the threat of further action from the West will exacerbate that and cause more refugees to come to the West.

And if you can tell us what extra planning, extra actions you will be taking to address that point, ease the pressure on nations and help the refugees themselves.

MAY: Well, you are right, of course, as a result of what has been taking place in Syria over the last few years, seven years or so, we have seen a large number of people displaced within Syria and, obviously, a large number of refugees from Syria being displaced both to countries in the region and further afield.

And, of course, we have been receiving a number of Syrian refugees here in the U.K. ourselves. But our focus has always been on support for refugees in the region with considerable support to countries that have been providing refugee for them.

Obviously Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey are the three countries that have particularly been providing refuge for them. The purpose of this action is to prevent further humanitarian suffering. I think nobody can have been anything but appalled at the scenes that we saw and that we've read about from the attack that took place in Douma.

And it is right, I believe, that the international community has acted to give that very clear message about this use of chemical weapons.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Prime Minister, are you concerned that you perhaps do not --


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- have the support of the British people for this action?

Polling has shown that around a fifth of the people support further action in Syria.

And what is your message to the people who are uneasy about the action you've taken?

MAY: As I said, I've taken this decision because I believe it is the right thing to do. I think my message to people about this is that this is about the use of chemical weapons. We have for nearly 100 years now had a generally accepted position in the international community that chemical weapons are illegal, they are banned, that has generally been accepted.

We have seen that international norm being eroded. It has been eroded a number of ways. As I say, we've seen a nerve agent used on the streets of a city here in the United Kingdom. But we have seen the Syrian regime continuing to use chemical weapons, despite the fact that, after August 2013, they said that they were dismantling their chemical weapons and Russia guaranteed that that was taking place. That commitment has not been met. So I think it is important that for

the alleviation of humanitarian suffering in Syria but also if we stand back and look at this more widely, I think it is in all our interests that we restore that international norm on the prohibition of the use of chemical weapons.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How much did you agonize about this decision?

Did it keep you awake at night?

MAY: As I said in my statement and I've repeated since, there is no graver decision that a prime minister can take than to send service personnel into combat. And it is a decision that I have not taken lightly.

As you know, there have been a number of discussions here with the National Security Council and at cabinet, together with the discussions with our American and French allies on this.

But at the end of the day, I felt it was the right thing to do precisely because we have seen this growing use of chemical weapons. And I think we must say this must stop. And it is in all our interests for us to ensure that the use of chemical weapons stops. And it is in the interests of all our futures to ensure that the use of chemical weapons stops.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Obviously there has been no parliamentary approval to this action for reasons of timing apart from anything else.

But when Parliament resumes next week, do you intend to try to get Parliament as a whole to back your strategy, which clearly you are opening the door to possible further action, from what you say?

Do you intend to push for a vote to get Parliament behind you?

MAY: As I say and as you've picked up in fact in your question, I think the decision was taken for operational reasons after we had the opportunity to provide the fullest possible assessment and proper planning. And I believe that it was the right thing to do.

But we will, of course, be giving an opportunity, the first opportunity when Parliament resits will be on Monday, for me to go in to make a statement and hear the views of parliamentarians on this issue.

And I will be very clear with Parliament, as I have been clear this morning and have been clear with others that this is not about action to intervene in the civil war. It is not about anything to do with regime change. It is about the use of chemical weapons. It's a limited and targeted strikes that have taken place in order to degrade and deter the capability to use chemical weapons.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Prime Minister. During your many statements, you have repeatedly talked about the victims of the Douma incident. Have you considered or are you considering to have some of these

victims take -- have the care and the medical care as the same was given to the Skripals here in this country or in the West?

And secondly, if it emerges that the Syrian regime has other chemical sites that have not been attacked, would you go after them and would you enlarge your tripartite coalition?

MAY: First of all, on the first point, obviously one of the issues that we have as the United Kingdom, together with other international parties, had concern for is the ability to access and provide the support necessary to victims, those who have been suffering from the humanitarian catastrophe that has been used of chemical weapons --


MAY: -- but indeed more generally in Syria. And as you will also know, we have made a number of attempts through the United Nations and others in other ways to try to ensure proper humanitarian access to people to ensure that they can be provided with the proper medical care.

And we will continue to push for that humanitarian access so that those who are innocent victims can be provided with the support that they need.

As I've said in response to other questions, I believe it is important this was a collective action taken by the U.K., together with France and the United States. There have been a number of other supportive statements from other international leaders that have come out following the action.

The intent of the international community now must be to make every effort through a variety of channels to ensure that we can give this very clear message about the use of chemical weapons. That is what this action has been about and that is what we will continue to press on in a whole variety of ways.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you, Prime Minister. Because of this continuing and heightening tension between the West and Russia, some people started to call this situation a new Cold War.

And what would you do, what could you do in order not to let this military activity lead to a new Cold War?

MAY: As I say, this has been focused, this action has been focused on the activities of the Syrian regime. Obviously, the Syrian regime has been backed by Russia. This action has been about chemical weapons.

We also need the resource of the wider issue of restoring peace and stability and security in Syria, political situation to that. And we will continue to work with all partners and, of course, Russia's involvement in that will be a part of that to bring about that security and that peace for Syria for the future and a political solution for the Syria for the future. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Given the failure, as you have said in your statement, of all diplomatic efforts so far, what is the plan following these strikes?

MAY: Sorry, what is the plan for...?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What is the plan, your plan following these strikes?

MAY: Well, as I said, diplomatic effort in itself has not had the impact that we wished it would have. We have now taken the military action and alongside that we will renew diplomatic efforts as well. And some of those obviously will continue to be through the United Nations to press for investigatory opportunities, for proper investigation and the holding to account of those who use these chemical weapons.

As I said, the aim of this is to degrade operational ability of the Syrian regime and to deter their willingness to use chemical weapons. But there is the wider issue of overall the message for the international community about the use of chemical weapons and we will continue to pursue that through the United Nations and throughout the fora.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Were there any communications with the Russian government or military about possible military action before it was taken?

MAY: This is not something that the United Kingdom has been involved in. As you'll be aware, this is a complicated picture in terms of operations that take place in Syria.

Full and proper planning was put in place before these strikes were undertaken to ensure that we could mitigate and minimize the impact on civilians and ensure that these strikes were absolutely targeted at their aim, which was the chemical weapons capability of the Syrian regime.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What would you say to Britons and others who may now fear reprisals in the wake of the attacks?

MAY: We have, of course, taken steps to ensure that we are providing support and have looked at those Britons who are overseas, who may be concerned about such attacks. And the foreign office, of course, is providing advice to people, as it would do in these circumstances.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Prime Minister, OPCW was on the way of going into Douma today.

Why not wait one or two days in order to get formal proof for the reproaches --


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- that they have used chemical weapons, especially since the Russians are at the moment are very carefully framing information that there are no proofs and that Great Britain is lying?

MAY: Well, first of all, we have made every effort over the past week to assess what has happened on the ground.

We have, as I've indicated in my statement, I've given a number of examples of the factors that were present, that have led us to believe not just that this was a chemical weapons attack but that it was a weapons attack at the hands of the Syrian regime.

And this is not the only attack that has taken place. And the reason for our action isn't simply about what happened in Douma,; it is about a wider pattern of the use of chemical weapons.

The OPCW has, on four previous occasions, investigated and identified the Syrian regime's use of chemical weapons. And I think it was important that, at the point at which we had the information that showed us that all the indications were that this was a chemical weapons attack at the hands of the Syrian regime, the planning had been put in place that we took the action that was necessary.


Given that chemical attacks happened before in Syria and the U.K. didn't take such measures as yesterday, do you think that your decision last night about Syria would have been the same if the Salisbury attack didn't happen?

MAY: We looked at this very much in terms of what had happened in Syria and the continued use of chemical weapons in Syria. After Khan Shaykhun, the United States chose to act and act alone in relation to those attacks. I believe it was right on this occasion that there was a wider collective action that took place, which showed the strength of the action that was being taken.

It was significantly greater action than was taken after Khan Shaykhun but also showed that strength and that international community's response. We've been concerned for some time about the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

And the evidence that has been gathered about that continued use of chemical weapons was such that we felt it was right to participate on this occasion.

We've just got three more here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm still a little unclear about what you see the role of Parliament in this.

In the event that the U.K. takes further military action, will you put that to a vote of MPs?

MAY: Well, first of all, this, as I said, this decision was taken because I believe it was the right thing to do. The power to take this decision is obviously a prerogative power. And at the first opportunity for Parliament, they will have an opportunity to question this and I will be in Parliament, as I've said, on Monday in order to do so.

The intent of this action is that it does degrade and it does deter the Syrian regime from taking action. We will be following up with further diplomatic efforts in relation to this wider question of the use of chemical weapons.

Two more.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In light of Russia continuing to use its veto, are you concerned about the ongoing effectiveness of the United Nations?

MAY: Well, I think my message would be this about the Security Council. Membership of the Security Council is -- permanent membership of the Security Council is given only to a limited number of countries.

I think it is important that those who sit around that Security Council table take seriously the responsibility that they have to the wider international community for decisions that are taken.

I hope that the action that has been taken in Syria will deter and degrade the Syrian regime's capability and willingness to use chemical weapons but will also send a message to others about the use of chemical weapons. This is illegal, it is banned, it should not happen.

And the gentleman in the second row here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Prime Minister, you've been very clear that this is not about regime change.

Why not?

And is it the British position now that Assad can stay as long as he doesn't use chemical weapons?

MAY: No, this was about, as I've said and you've recognized, this was specifically about the use of chemical weapons. There is a wider question on the future political solution for Syria and that is a matter that we will continue to pursue in diplomatic channels and political channels with our international partners and allies.

And the last one I'll take is from Dave.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm just wondering, in light of the benefit of hindsight, do you feel that what has happened over the last five years has demonstrated that --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- the vote in 2013 to take no action proves that taking no action in these cases can be as devastating as going in?

MAY: Well, obviously as you will be aware, I was a member of the government in 2013. I voted to take action in 2013. I believe when the government put that department, we did it because we felt at the time it was the right thing to do. Following that, of course, there were commitments given by the Syrian regime in relation to destroying their chemical weapons. And the Russian -- the Russia committed to guaranteeing that that was taking place.

That has not happened. And I think it is right now that we have sent that clear message by taking this military action. Thank you.

HOWELL: All right. Right there, for nearly 40 minutes there, the British prime minister Theresa May addressing the press and the British people, saying that she couldn't give all of the evidence but that did basically explain the evidence that she could as to why the nation took the action that it did and also explaining why diplomacy fell short.

ALLEN: She certainly made clear her resolve on this issue of chemical weapons and that was the purpose behind this strike and she saying also that there was, she felt, no other alternative.

HOWELL: Let's bring in our senior international correspondent Nima Elbagir following the story live in London.

Nima, I know that you were listening on there at Number 10.

What were the main takeaways from what you heard?

NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: For me, this was the first time that we got details of the facilities that were struck. That was obviously very key, a storage and production facility, a research facility and a military bunker involved in chemical attacks.

She also specified where the RAF, the Royal Air Force had hit, which is just west of Homs. She also put out the stall in terms of rebuffing a lot of what we've been hearing from the Russians, that this was illegal and unjustified.

She makes very clear that Russia was in contravention of the international chemical weapons watchdogs' requirements in terms of doing away with their chemical weapons stockhold.

But also that Russia guaranteed that this would be done. So she was putting together an argument in terms of the broader Russian culpability. And it was toward the end that really she put out her stall in terms of how much this is in Britain's national interests. The sense really is emerging here that Britain, out of the three allies, has the clearest argument in terms of broader national interests. She reminded those of us who were listening in that Britain itself has seen an act of Russian aggression, and this is what the British government believes, on its own soil with the poisoning of Sergei Skripal, the Russian double agent, and his daughter.

And this was a use of chemical weapons with impunity, an act that Britain believes to be an act of Russian aggression. And so this was in part a response to that. And she spoke about the fact that impunity in the use of chemical weapons cannot go without a response. But also she left the door open for future attacks. And that has been

a point of contention between the Pentagon and President Trump. President Trump also left the door open for further attacks when he spoke in the aftermath of these attacks.

But then General Mattis stepped forward and said these were limited; this was the only case that we are dealing with right now. But Prime Minister Theresa May there, saying that, if we need to, we will strike again.

HOWELL: And it was also interesting to hear her address the Russian claim that this might have been somehow staged by the United Kingdom, basically describing that as an absurd allegation.

So these actions taken overnight, you heard the prime minister bring up the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and Yulia Skripal. The question here, she says these actions were taken on the issue of chemical weapons.

But is this also seen there in the United Kingdom as a warning to Russia?

ELBAGIR: Absolutely. And it is interesting that, in the hours before this attack, yesterday the national security adviser here took a pretty unprecedented step of making public classified information, the evidence around the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter and why Britain believes that it was Russia.

And they talked the British public through all of the very key points, what kind of an agent, the level of purity and why they believe not only that this couldn't have been a non-state actor but they also have evidence that the Russian intelligence services had actually been tracking Sergei and Yulia Skripal for the last five years.

They also have evidence they say that Russians had actually been acting out, they had been gaming out circumstances in which Novichok, the nerve agent used in this poisoning, could be used on door handles, which was exactly the way in which the poison was used in the Sergei and Yulia Skripal attack.

The sense is that, before she goes ahead of Parliament on Monday, she wanted to make very clear to the British public that, out of the three allies, Britain needed this to happen, that Britain -- and Europe, as a whole, because --


ELBAGIR: -- of course, Macron, the French president, is on board with this as well -- see what happened in Syria, what happened on the streets of Salisbury here in the U.K., as part of a continuum of Russian overreach.

This stretches all the way back to 2014 and the annexation of the Crimean territory in the Ukraine and that the world now cannot stand idly by in the face of Russia's actions -- George. HOWELL: Our senior international correspondent, Nima Elbagir, live outside Number 10, thank you for the reporting. We'll stay in touch with you.

Let's also now put this into focus with Fawaz Gerges. Fawaz is a professor of international relations at the London School of Economics, also the author of "Making the Arab World."

Thank you so much for your time today, live in Paris. First let's start, given where you are, the French response to this case.

Compared to the situation they were in, in 2013, describe the difference.



HOWELL: We might have lost Fawaz Gerges there.

Are you still with us?

GERGES: Yes, I am.

HOWELL: OK, yes, just the difference between what we saw several years ago.

GERGES: Yes. I mean, as President Macron has made it very clear, that the use of chemical weapons will trigger a French response. And President Trump (INAUDIBLE) it was very important for the president and also the prime minister to basically translate the threats into concrete action.

But beyond the bluster, beyond the rhetoric, in fact my argument is the attacks against the chemical (INAUDIBLE) loud and clear. And the message is entirely different from the bluster that you have heard from Washington and Paris and London.

The Western powers are not interested (INAUDIBLE) Assad. The Western powers are not interested in targeting the infrastructure (INAUDIBLE) the regime.


HOWELL: Fawaz, I need to interrupt you. We're having some signal issues hearing you. We'll bring you back in shortly to get your perspective. But stand by as we clear that up and we'll bring you back in.

ALLEN: So let's bring in now Jacob Parakilas, from the independent think tank, Chatham House, his non-profit organization analyzes and promotes the understanding of major international issues. And he is joining us from London.

Jacob, thank you. First, let's get your reaction to the strike. The U.S., France, U.K. united; whereas, in previous times, both the U.K. and France have balked in joining the U.S.

What does this unity represent?

JACOB PARAKILAS, CHATHAM HOUSE: I think it is a recognize of the fact that this -- the use of chemical weapons in this instance reflects a longstanding history of these uses, that if there is sort of a lack of unity before, the repetition, the repeated use of chemical weapons, has sort of brought France, the U.K. and U.S. into line.

There is also a sense that there is unity because this is a time- limited, one-off strike, a relatively small deployment of military forces, the risk is relatively low, the risk of mission creep is relatively low.

So there's a point of agreement between all three governments and they can all, in a time when they are having trouble finding common purpose on Iran and on a few other issues, this is something that they can all agree on. I think there is a broad political purpose there.

HOWELL: This based on the allegation that the Syrian government used chemical weapons on its own people, some question why chemical weapons were even used given success of that regime with regard to the conflict there.

But the greater question here, is this a situation where it will even make a difference, Jacob?

PARAKILAS: Well, you raise a good point which is that a relatively small proportion of the casualties in the Syrian conflict over the last seven years have been from chemical weapons.

The vast majority of casualties are caused by airstrikes, artillery fire, sieges, starvation. Chemical weapons are fairly low down the list. Now there is this very longstanding international norm against the use, especially the use against civilian targets of chemical weapons.

And there is a very valid purpose in defending that norm. But you also have to look at it in the context of a much greater level of violence that has been carried out in the Syrian conflict. Using conventional weapons, which hasn't drawn a response, hasn't drawn any meaningful action against the Syrian regime from these countries.

ALLEN: Jacob, Theresa May was just holding a news conference there and she was asked about why doesn't the U.K. support regime change, why is it just limited to this one instance of retaliating for the chemical weapons?


ALLEN: Russia's role here complicates the situation for the West, does it not?

It kind of puts the West in a box.

PARAKILAS: It does, partly because the situation on the ground is very different from how it was in 2013. You now have a significant number of Russian soldiers, Russian advisers, Russian military hardware on the ground in Syria.

And there is a very real danger if you engage in a wide-scale air campaign that you will hit Russian assets, that you will kill Russian service men or Russian advisors. And that could precipitate a wider conflict.

So in a way I think there's a -- facts on the ground at issue that keeps the Western response relatively limited. But I think that there is also just a worry in the Western capitals that, while a one-off strike may be seen as a demonstration of resolve, a demonstration of norms maintenance, that a longer engagement might end up in some kind of quagmire.

And we've seen this in military interventions in the Middle East before, that the West steps in with a clear purpose and then gets drawn into other issues and eventually sort of finds itself held in a conflict without really being able to necessarily affect the outcome.

HOWELL: Jacob Parakilas, live for us in London, thank you very much for the perspective. And we'll keep in touch with you.

Again you're watching CNN's breaking news coverage here. The United States, U.K. and France taking action in Syria. Stand by. We will reset. More news at the top of the hour.