President Barack Obama will hold the Syrian government accountable for the “indiscriminate slaughter” of its own people with chemical weapons, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said.
“The indiscriminate slaughter of civilians, the killing of women and children and innocent bystanders by chemical weapons, is a moral obscenity,” Kerry told reporters in Washington today. “President Obama believes there must be accountability for those who would use the world’s most heinous weapons against the world’s most vulnerable people.”
Obama hasn’t decided whether the U.S. will take military action in Syria, according to an administration official who asked for anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.
Kerry said the evidence is “undeniable” that chemical weapons were used against residents of a Damascus suburb last week and that President Bashar al-Assad’s regime has the toxic weapons and the capability to deploy them. Suggestions that reports of the attack have been fabricated are groundless, he said.
“Anyone who could claim that an attack of this staggering scale could be contrived or fabricated needs to check their conscience and their own moral compass,” Kerry said. “What is before us today is real, and it is compelling.”
While a United Nations team is investigating the alleged chemical attack, Kerry said the U.S. already has “additional information” that is “being compiled and reviewed together with our partners.”
Kerry criticized Assad’s regime for delays in allowing UN inspectors to travel to the site and continued shelling that he said has destroyed evidence.
“Our sense of basic humanity is offended not only by this cowardly crime, but also by the cynical attempt to cover it up,” he said.
U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague said Britain is convinced Assad was behind the Aug. 21 attack in Ghouta, outside Damascus, and that there was agreement with the U.S. and France on the need to respond. The U.K. government plans to decide tomorrow whether to recall Parliament and seek approval for taking action, according to a person familiar with the discussions who asked not to be named.
“I’m putting here the case that the Assad regime did this, and that the use of chemical weapons on a large scale like this cannot go unaddressed,” Hague told BBC Radio 4.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said his country will join a “coalition” against Syria if the UN fails to act.
The UN inspection team braved sniper fire today to collect evidence and interview survivors, witnesses and doctors, according to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
A vehicle carrying the scientists was hit by fire from a sniper en route to site, Ban said in an e-mail. After returning to Syria’s capital for a new vehicle, the team reached the site, visited two hospitals, conducted interviews and gathered samples, Ban said.
“I think a response is imminent,” U.S. Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said today on MSNBC. Corker said he expects “a surgical, proportional strike against the Assad regime for what they have done.” Obama doesn’t need authorization from Congress to begin military action, he said.
Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican, said the U.S. should use “standoff weaponry” to destroy Syrian airfields, fuel and maintenance facilities.
“If the United States stands by and doesn’t take very serious action -- not just launching some cruise missiles -- then, again, our credibility in the world is diminished even more, if there’s any left,” McCain told reporters today in Seoul.
Israel’s Minister of Intelligence Yuval Steinitz said the use of chemicals was “clear.” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said it was “obvious” the weapons had been used and that the “massacre’s origin comes from the regime of Bashar al-Assad.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused the West of rushing to judgment before the UN inspectors complete their work. “Western leaders are making statements that indicate that they won’t wait for the results of this commission, they have already decided everything,” he said.
Assad has dismissed the accusations as “nonsense,” telling the Russian newspaper Izvestia that allegations were “politicized.” The U.S. will be faced with “failure” if it decides on the military option, Assad said. “America has waged many wars, but has never been able to achieve its political objectives from any of them,” Assad said in the interview.
Obama said a year ago that the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime would cross a U.S. “red line.” The U.S. now has four destroyers equipped with Tomahawk cruise missiles in the Mediterranean Sea, compared with three that have been there for months, according to a U.S. official familiar with the forces there. None of the ships -- the USS Gravely, the USS Barry, the USS Mahan and the USS Ramage -- has been assigned a mission, the official said.
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