The administration of US President Barack Obama said Tuesday it has moved beyond the question of whether or not chemical weapons were used in Syria last week, and by whom, and is now working with other nations – though not Russia – to determine the appropriate response.
“There is no doubt here that chemical weapons were used on a massive scale on August 21st outside Damascus. There is also very little doubt, and should be no doubt for anyone who approaches this logically, that the Syrian regime is responsible… and there must be a response,” said White House Press Secretary Jay Carney in a briefing Tuesday.
That was the conclusion not just of the US government, Carney said, but of scores of others including the Arab League, an organization of Arab states, eyewitness accounts, video accounts, statements from independent organizations and press reports.
France said Tuesday it too was prepared to take action in Syria. In England, the parliament is set to meet Thursday to debate the issue.
More than 350 people died in the attack near Damascus last Wednesday, according to the Syrian opposition and the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders.
“We know that the regime maintains custody of the chemical weapons in Syria and uses the types of rockets that were used to deliver the chemical weapons… the opposition does not,” Carney said.
The government of embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad has denied using chemical agents, and showed on state TV what it claimed was evidence of rebel groups using such weapons.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said Tuesday his country would use “all means available” to defend itself in case of a US strike, according to The Associated Press.
To allow a chemical attack to happen without a response “would be to invite further use of chemical weapons… and the consequences of that, given the volatility of the region… would be very serious indeed,” Carney said.
He added that while the US firmly believes that “Syria’s future cannot include Assad,” the goal of any US action to the reported use of chemicals in Syria is “not about a regime change,” but about “responding to a clear violation of international norms.”
Senior US officials told NBC News that military strikes on Syria could come “as early as Thursday.”
The United Nations Security Council has not authorized any military intervention in the Syrian crisis. Moscow, along with Beijing, has previously vetoed three UN Security Council resolutions condemning Assad’s government.
“Attempts to bypass the Security Council, to once again create artificial, unproven excuses for an armed intervention in the region are fraught with new suffering in Syria and catastrophic consequences for other countries in the Middle East and Northern Africa,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said in a statement posted on the Ministry’s website.
Russia also slammed the US on Tuesday for allegedly using “unproven excuses” to justify military action in Syria and said it was “seriously disappointed” by Washington’s decision to put off a bilateral meeting – scheduled to start this week – to discuss the Syrian crisis.
US Secretary of State John Kerry did speak with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Tuesday, said State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf in a press briefing to reporters.
The US wants the meeting with Russia to happen “at the time when we have the best chance to make progress. We are working now with the Russians to reschedule it,” she added.
US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Tuesday most of the international community has little doubt that the Syrian regime had used chemical weapons against its own people, and added that his department has provided Obama with a variety of military options in Syria.
“We have moved assets in place to be able to fulfill and comply with whatever option the president wishes to take. We are ready to go,” Hagel told the BBC.
Harf said that Obama has not yet decided on what course of action to take in Syria.
Carney said Obama is consulting with advisors and weighing the options, but that any US military response would not include “boots on the ground,” a reference to sending US troops into the region.