United Kingdom says May, Trump to work on response to Syrian chemical weapons

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Photo Vasily A. Nebenzya, the Russian ambassador to the United Nations, exchanged harsh words with the American ambassador at a Security Council meeting on Friday.

The Russian military says that an alleged chemical attack in Syria was staged and directed by Britain.

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May tours Alexander Stadium in Birmingham, April 11, 2018.

She told an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council called by Russian Federation that should the US and its allies decide to act in Syria it will be to defend "a bedrock global norm that benefits all nations" - the prohibition on the use of chemical weapons.

A Downing Street spokesperson added: "They agreed it was vital that the use of chemical weapons did not go unchallenged, and on the need to deter the further use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime".

Also on Thursday, US Secretary of Defence Jim Mattis told a congressional panel: "I believe there was a chemical attack and we are looking for the actual evidence".

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The two leaders also said there was a need "to deter the further use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime", as they pledged to work together on the worldwide response to the suspected chemical weapons attack.

But he also appeared anxious to avoid a wider conflict, saying France would "in no way allow an escalation".

Noting that inspectors from the Organisation for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) were due to visit the site shortly, it underlined the Damascus government's commitment that they will have full access and freedom of movement.

Then came Saturday's suspected chemical attack in Douma, followed by worldwide condemnation and threats of military action.

What is less clear is whether sarin - the agent used in the chemical attack last April that prompted U.S. missile strikes - or a similar agent was also used. Syria and Russian Federation deny the attack took place. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned Western intervention in Syria would "lead to new waves of migrants to Europe".

Diplomats have expressed concern that the experts could be used as hostages or human shields. The area that allegedly came under attack has since been surrendered by the militants.

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Britain's Ministry of Defense refused to comment on reports that Royal Navy submarines armed with cruise missiles have been dispatched into range of Syria.

Moscow warned against any strikes and threatened to retaliate.

"The immediate priority is to avert the danger of war", Moscow's United Nations ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said on Thursday.

Russia has a major naval base in Syria, and Russian parliamentarian Vladimir Shamanov told reporters Friday that ships there had left port and gone into open waters for security measures.

Douma and the sprawling eastern Ghouta region near the capital, Damascus, had been under rebel control since 2012 and was a thorn in the side of Assad's government, threatening his seat of power with missiles and potential advances for years.

But the leaders of Jaish al-Islam, or Army of Islam, the strongest rebel group in eastern Ghouta that controlled Douma, have all evacuated.

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Parliament voted down British military action against Assad's government in 2013, in an embarrassment for May's predecessor, David Cameron. May isn't legally required to do that, though it is conventional for lawmakers to be given the chance to vote.

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