WASHINGTON -- White House spokesman Jay Carney on Monday called a reported chemical attack outside Damascus a breach of international norms, but would not discuss whether the Obama administration believed it had legal authority to launch a retaliatory strike against the Syrian government.
"This is a violation of a long-held international norm that bans the use of chemical weapons on a widespread scale," Carney told reporters. "I'm not going to lay out a legal case here because we are evaluating potential responses."
Carney spoke shortly after Secretary of State John F. Kerry attempted to make the moral case for a U.S. response. Kerry, who said he was personally horrified by images of the victims, said evidence of the attack was “undeniable” and “defies any code of morality.”
The president shared those sentiments, Carney told reporters, although the spokesman did not specifically say whether Obama had viewed the videos posted online by antigovernment protesters.
The Syrian opposition says hundreds of people were killed in the Aug. 21 attack, which they blame on the government of President Bashar Assad. The government has denied involvement and blames elements of the opposition.
The White House believes “there is very little doubt” that Assad is responsible for the attack, Carney said.
He said the administration would present evidence “in the coming days," but did not say whether such a presentation would be a prelude to some form of action.
The White House is considering a military response to the attack, including possible missile strikes on targets within Syria.
Asked whether Obama intended his decision to turn the tide of the 2 1/2-year-old civil war, Carney stressed that the action would be a “response” to the chemical attack and “distinct” from U.S. support for some of the rebel forces trying to oust Assad.
Neither side in Syria admits to using chemical weapons. U.N. weapons inspectors on Monday visited one of the towns that was allegedly targeted. But their mandate is limited to determining whether chemical agents were used, not apportioning responsibility.