Obama administration shoring up support for response to Syria attack

WASHINGTON -- The White House on Tuesday asserted that almost no one in the world doubts that the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad launched a chemical attack against civilians last week, as Obama administration officials worked the phones to shore up support for an international response.

“I’m not aware of any doubt that exists,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters. “I think that maybe if you take Bashar al-Assad seriously on these matters, you might have some doubt, but there's no evidence to suggest that he has any credibility when it come to his statements about the use of chemical weapons in Syria.”

Assad's government has the rocket capability employed in the attack, Carney said. The Syrian government used chemical weapons earlier in the civil war, he said, and was engaged in an assault against the targeted suburbs of Damascus prior to last Wednesday’s attack.

“We see no evidence of any alternative scenario,” Carney said.

Syrian officials deny any use of chemical weapons in the war and blame elements off the opposition fighting to overthrow Assad.

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Obama's top spokesman insisted the president has not yet made a decision about how to respond to last week's attack, which rebels say killed hundreds of people.

Obama continued his round of phone calls to world leaders, speaking to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper about their shared opposition to the use of chemical weapons. Obama has spoken in recent days to leaders in Britain, France and Australia.

Vice President Joseph Biden and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel were also speaking with their foreign counterparts.

U.S. forces are ready to strike if Obama gives the order, Hagel told the BBC on Tuesday.

Carney declined to explain what the president meant when he said last week that an attack by one country on another without a United Nations mandate would raise “questions in terms of whether international law supports it.”

But he suggested that the other criteria the president stated in an interview last week with CNN  – “clear evidence that can be presented” – has practically been met.

“The intelligence community is working on an assessment, and we will have conclusions that can be provided to the public available this week,” Carney said. “But I think it's important to note that it is clear already that chemical weapons were used on a large scale, undeniable, and that the Assad regime is the only possible force that could have deployed them.”

“There has to be a response to that clear violation of international norms,” he said.


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