WASHINGTON -- Secretary of State John F. Kerry on Monday condemned Syria’s reported chemical weapons attacks as a “moral obscenity” and declared that the Obama administration intends to move quickly to hold the Syrian government accountable.
Citing “undeniable” evidence that the government of President Bashar Assad used nerve gas against its population last week, Kerry said that the world must respond to the use of weapons that have long been outlawed by international agreement.
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,” Kerry said in a brief appearance at the State Department.
Although Kerry made no mention of military action, he strongly implied that the United States is ready to embark on direct military action for the first time in a more than 2-year-old war that it has sought to keep at a distance. U.S. officials and foreign diplomats say they are privately discussing military options, including a possible cruise missile attack on Syria’s military complex that could begin in days.
“The indiscriminate slaughter of civilians, the killing of women and children and innocent bystanders by chemical weapons is a moral obscenity,” Kerry said. “By any standard, it is inexcusable. And despite the excuses and equivocations that some have manufactured, it is undeniable.”
Kerry’s comments, probably the most forceful yet from the administration, appeared aimed at building support for military action from a public that now wants no part of the Syrian war. Although many foreign policy experts and politicians are calling for U.S. intervention, polls indicate only 1 in 5 Americans favors direct military action.
Also on Monday, there were increasing signs that the administration would have the support of a substantial number of European and Middle Eastern nations for military action, even if it is unable, as expected, to win United Nations approval for such an effort. Germany, which sat out the Libya war of 2011, is signaling it may provide support, as well as France and Britain.
A United Nations chemical weapons team began gathering evidence of chemical weapons use in a Damascus suburb on Monday after coming under a sniper attack as they entered the region. But the U.N.’s process could take weeks, far longer than Washington or its allies want to wait.