Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Friday expressed support for the punitive U.S. missile strike on Syria, saying he understands that it was “a measure to prevent further deterioration of the situation.”

“In Syria many innocent citizens have been victimized with chemical weapons again,” Abe told reporters at the Prime Minister’s Office. “This is extremely inhumane and also violates United Nations resolutions.”

He added: “The Japanese government supports the U.S. government’s determination never to tolerate the further spread and use of chemical weapons.”

Abe’s remark came at a time when he is attempting to strengthen the Japan-U.S. military alliance to face the ongoing military threat posed by North Korea.

Abe has consistently tried to portray Japan as a solid ally of the U.S. since Donald Trump won the presidential election in November.

“In East Asia, too, the threat of weapons of mass destruction has become increasingly severe,” Abe added.

“In that context, Japan highly values the strong commitment of President Trump to maintenance of the international order and peace and stability of allies and the world,” Abe said.

Earlier in the day, U.S. President Donald Trump held a news conference to reveal that he ordered a cruise missile attack on an air base in Syria. At the time, he was hosting Chinese President Xi Jinping at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.

A senior Japanese official said Trump’s announcement will be seen as signaling that the U.S. could attack North Korea if it won’t give up its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

It will also act as tacit pressure on Chinese President Xi to make stronger efforts to help them stop Pyongyang, the official said.

Meanwhile, Abe’s decision to support the cruise missile strike Friday morning could lead to a number of diplomatic difficulties for Tokyo. For one thing, it could raise tensions with Moscow because Russia has long supported the Syrian regime led by President Bashar Assad.

Abe’s support could make it even more difficult for Tokyo to win concessions from Russia in their territorial dispute over four islands off Hokkaido that have been occupied by Moscow since the last days of World War II.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga was repeatedly asked about the impact Abe’s stance could have on the territorial talks, but Suga only said that he didn’t believe it would have any “direct impact.”

Syria’s army said Friday that the U.S. missile strike killed six people and caused serious damage. The government and the army denied using chemical weapons or being involved in the incident that led to the barrage.

The death toll from the chemical weapons attack in Idlib province has risen to 86 people, 30 of them children, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. More than 160 were wounded and others remain unaccounted for.

Turkey said the autopsies of three people confirmed that chemical weapons had been used in the attack. But Syria accused Washington of being allied with jihadi entities like the Islamic State group and said it was seeking to “justify this aggression” by pointing the finger for the suspected chemical attack at Damascus “without knowing the truth.”

In Russia, the Kremlin called the strikes “aggression against a sovereign state in violation of international norms.” The action has inflicted “considerable damage” to already “lamentable” U.S.-Russia ties, the statement added.
Suga was also asked how Tokyo determined chemical weapons were actually used by the Syria. Suga didn’t directly answer but said United Nations organizations are investigating.

Later Friday, a senior Japanese official said the U.S. government showed Japan certain intelligence suggesting chemical weapons were used, although Tokyo did not divulge this.

When then- U.S. President George W. Bush invaded Iraq in 2003, alleging Baghdad had weapons of mass destruction, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi fully supported him. But after the Iraq war ended, no WMDs were found, opening Japan’s Foreign Ministry to criticism for relying solely on U.S. information.

Elsewhere, Beijing offered a nuanced reaction to the U.S. strike, saying it was “urgent” to avoid “further deterioration of the situation.”

In Europe, French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in a joint statement that Assad bore “sole responsibility” for the U.S. strike following the suspected chemical attack.

Britain said it “fully supported” the strikes, judging them an “appropriate response to the barbaric chemical weapons attack.”It said the strikes were “intended to deter further attacks.”

NATO ally Turkey, a key player in the Syria conflict who has endured choppy relations with Washington recently, praised the missile strike as “positive.” Israel and Saudi Arabia also welcomed the U.S. action.

A leading Syrian rebel group, however, said one strike was “not enough,” adding that there were “26 air bases that target civilians.”

Earlier in the day, Trump held an abrupt news conference to announce the strike while hosting Chinese President Xi Jinping at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. Trump apparently showed off that he won’t rule out resorting to a military option in dealing with weapons of mass destruction, and thereby urged Xi to put more pressure on North Korea to abandon nuclear and ballistic missile programs, analysis said.

“Japan will firmly keep playing its own rule for the sake of peace and stability of the world,” Abe also said

Information from AFP-JIJI added

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