WASHINGTON -- Unveiling a U.S. intelligence report on Syria’s use of chemical weapons, Secretary of State John F. Kerry said Friday the evidence shows President Bashar Assad’s government killed at least 1,429 of its own citizens in a “crime against humanity” that demands an international response.
Kerry, trying to overcome doubts about the Obama's administration’s anticipated military strike on Syria, said the intelligence community has documented with “high confidence,” from “thousands of sources,” that Syrian forces prepared for days to attack entrenched rebel forces and then, on Aug. 21, fired gas-filled shells that killed at least 426 children, as well as adults.
“This is evidence,” Kerry said in an appearance at the State Department. “These are facts. The primary question is what are we ... going to do about it?”
Kerry’s statement came at a time when the British government has pulled back its earlier support for any U.S.-led retaliatory strike, and some other governments and U.S. lawmakers are demanding more time to consider whether the evidence justifies an attack on Assad. But while some American and foreign officials have concluded that the evidence is not airtight, Kerry insisted that it is.
He said the intelligence community has evidence of the Syrian army’s careful preparations for the attack, including the way it ordered soldiers to put on gas masks.
Evidence also shows that the rockets were fired only from government-controlled areas, and only struck rebel-held zones, Kerry said. Also discovered was a record of a senior Syrian official confirming that the government used chemical weapons, he said.
Kerry added that the Obama administration has other evidence it can’t reveal to the public or lawmakers because it would put at risk intelligence “sources and methods.”
U.S. officials have signaled that a retaliatory cruise-missile attack on Syria could begin as early as Saturday night.
Kerry insisted that the administration still has international support for an attack, despite the loss of Britain. He cited statements from the Arab League, the Organization of the Islamic Conference and Turkey condemning Syria’s action, and said the U.S. had the support of France, Australia, as well as others.
He argued that even though Britain and other countries have urged that United Nations deliberations be held on the subject, there is no chance the U.N. Security Council could favor action because of the “obstructionism” of Russia.
If the United States fails to respond to the crimes of the Syria “thug,” he said, it will encourage other regimes to use chemical weapons. He said it would endanger U.S. allies such as Israel, Jordan and Turkey, as well as the United States itself.
And he contended that failure to act will encourage Iran to press ahead with its suspected nuclear weapons program, without worrying that world powers will try to bring it to a halt.
Kerry sought to rebut arguments that U.S. action will be a repeat of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, based on the erroneous belief that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.
He said the United States is not seeking regime change in Syria, or to begin a continuing military role in the country’s more than 2-year-old civil war.
“History would judge us extremely harshly if we turned a blind eye,” he said.
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