The New Zealand government "can understand" why the United State bombed a Syrian air base on Friday in response to a deadly chemical attack, Foreign Minister Murray McCully says.

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But it's not clear if the New Zealand government was aware of the decision to launch dozens of cruise missile strikes against the facility controlled by Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad's forces.

"It is becoming increasingly clear that Syrian government forces were responsible for the outrageous attacks where chemical weapons were used," Mr McCully said in a statement to NZ Newswire.

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"In the absence of an adequate response from the United Nations Security Council, we can understand why the United States has taken targeted unilateral action to try and prevent further such attacks by the Syrian regime."

The dropping of 59 cruise missiles on the facility north of Damascus is the toughest direct US action yet in Syria's six-year-old civil war and raises the risk of confrontation with Russia and Iran - Assad's two main military backers.

In a press conference shortly afterward US President Donald Trump said the attack targeted the air base where the chemical weapons strike earlier this week was carried out from.

"It is in the vital national security interests of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons," he said, describing the attack as "barbaric".

US media have reported that Mr Trump sought support from a "broad list" of countries before carrying out the bombing.

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Mr McCully's office would not comment on whether New Zealand was one of those countries.

He has described the chemical weapons attack as "horrific".

"It is critical that the international community emphatically demand an end to this violence, and that the Syrian government be held to account," he said.

The Green Party have condemned the attack while a UN Security Council investigation is underway.

"This is not the moment for a military action by the US against a country where a Russian military presence already exists," global affairs spokesman Kennedy Graham said.

"The US President should recognise that precautionary multilateral measures, not precipitate unilateral actions, are the appropriate way to proceed in today's dangerous world."

NZ Newswire

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