Syria strike brings rare criticism for Trump from France's Le Pen

PARIS (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to order a missile strike on Syria brought rare criticism on Friday from French far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who has until now viewed the American leader as an ideological soulmate.

Marine Le Pen, French National Front (FN) political party leader and candidate for French 2017 presidential election, attends a political rally in Monswiller, near Strasbourg, France April 5, 2017. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

The U.S. strike reverberated through the French presidential election campaign, just two weeks before the first round of voting, with most leading candidates taking a cautious, or a critical, stance toward the U.S. action.

“I am a little surprised because Trump had said repeatedly that he didn’t intend the United States to be the world’s policeman any longer and that is exactly what he did yesterday,” Le Pen told France 2 television.

The United States fired cruise missiles at a Syrian airbase on Friday as punishment for a suspected chemical weapons attack on Tuesday which killed at least 70 people.

“Is it too much to ask to wait for the results of an independent international investigation (into Tuesday’s attack) before carrying out this kind of strike?” Le Pen asked.

She said she didn’t want a repeat of events in Iraq and Libya where she said Western intervention had “brought chaos and ended up strengthening ... terrorist organizations.”

Polls show Le Pen and centrist Emmanuel Macron virtually neck-and-neck before the first round of voting on April 23, with conservative Francois Fillon and Jean-Luc Melenchon of the far left close behind. The top two candidates contest a May 7 runoff, where Macron is tipped to easily beat Le Pen.

Le Pen, who wants to curb immigration, ditch the euro, and hold a referendum on European Union membership, was buoyed by Trump’s victory and the British vote to leave the European Union last year, hoping a similar groundswell against what she calls “unchecked globalization (and) destructive ultra-liberalism” would propel her to victory.

While she has praised Trump, the National Front leader is also an admirer of Russian President Vladimir Putin, an ally of Syria’s embattled President Bashar al-Assad. Le Pen held talks with Putin in the Kremlin last month.

Le Pen said last November that her election as French president would form a trio of world leaders with Trump and Putin that “would be good for world peace.”

Macron, who just hours before the U.S. attack had called for international military intervention against Assad under U.N. auspices, repeated on Friday that he wanted “coordinated action on the international level” against the Syrian president.

Fillon warned of the risk of a broader confrontation.

“This American response, understandable in view of the horror of the chemical attacks, must not lead to a direct confrontation between Western forces and those of Russia and Iran,” he said in a statement.

A spokesman for Melenchon spoke out against what he called “cowboy diplomacy”. “This violence only sustains violence, with the people below being hit in the face with bombs,” Alexis Corbiere said on Radio Classique. “It resolves nothing.”

Additional reporting by Elizabeth Pineau; Editing by Richard Balmforth