Malcolm Turnbull has hinted that Australia may be involved in an expanded US-led military strike on Syria, after outrage at Tuesday’s chemical weapons attack in Idlib.
The prime minister, speaking shortly before it emerged the US was launching missile strikes on a Syrian military airfield near Homs, said the attack “cries out” for a strong response and that Russia had to take some responsibility.
“I can’t go into any more detail than that, other than to say that I’ve spoken only a little while ago with the defence minister [Marise Payne] and the chief of the defence force [Mark Binskin]” he told 3AW radio on Friday.
“You know where we stand. We have condemned this attack utterly. It cries out for a strong response and we are in very … close and constant communication with our allies, in particular the United States.”
“We have to be clear with Russia, with have to be clear with those who support the regime, that this is totally unacceptable,” she said.
“The UN security council, I understand, is considering the options that are available to it. We would call on them to take action in response to that.”
The US vice-president, Mike Pence, is due to visit Australia this month. Pence will fly in on 22 April, as part of a regional tour of Asia-Pacific countries including South Korea, Japan and Indonesia.
The foreign minister, Julie Bishop, says Pence’s visit underlines the importance of the Australia-US alliance.
“Vice-President Pence’s visit provides an important opportunity to discuss the depth and breadth of Australia’s strategic, security and economic relationship with the United States, and to underline our commitment to work with the Trump administration to advance our shared interests in our region and globally,” she said.
At least 72 people were killed in northern Syria this week after being exposed to a toxic gas that survivors said had been dropped from warplanes at dawn on Tuesday.
At least 100 others had to be treated in hospitals in Idlib province where the strike took place, and several dozen others were transferred to Turkey, some in critical condition.
There has been international condemnation of the attack, with the US, Britain, the EU and Australia blaming the Syrian government for the carnage.