(Photo: Jacquelyn Martin, AP)
(CNN) -- Declaring himself "war-weary" but
determined to hold Syria accountable for using banned chemical weapons,
President Barack Obama said Friday he was considering a limited response
to what U.S. intelligence assessed with "high confidence" as a Syrian
attack that killed more than 1,400 people.
Obama told reporters he
had yet to make a final decision, but hinted at a military strike that
sources and experts say would entail cruise missiles fired from U.S.
naval ships at Syrian command targets -- but not any chemical weapons
"It is not in the
national security interests of the United States to ignore clear
violations" of what he called an "international norm" banning the use of
chemical weapons, Obama said at a meeting with visiting heads of Baltic
nations Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.
He called the Syrian
attack a "challenge to the world" that threatens U.S. allies Israel,
Turkey and Jordan while increasing the risk of such weapons falling into
the hands of terrorists.
Earlier, Secretary of
State John Kerry released details of a declassified U.S. intelligence
report in an effort to muster support at home and abroad for a military
response against the government of President Bashar al-Assad.
However, NATO allies want
the United Nations to authorize any military response, something that
both Kerry and Obama said was unlikely because of opposition by
permanent Security Council member Russia, a Syrian ally.
"My preference would have
been that the international community already would have acted," Obama
said, citing what he called "the inability of the Security Council to
move in the face of a clear violation of international norms."
He expressed frustration
with the lack of international support, saying that "a lot of people
think something should be done, but nobody seems willing to do it."
"It's important for us to
recognize that when over 1,000 people are killed, including hundreds of
innocent children, through the use of a weapon that 98 or 99 percent of
humanity says should not be used even in war, and there is no action,
then we're sending a signal that that international norm doesn't mean
much," Obama said. "And that is a danger to our national security."
The remarks by Obama and
Kerry, and the release of the intelligence report, came as Obama's
administration faced rising resistance to a military strike against the
Syrian government both at home and abroad.
voted against joining a coalition sought by Obama to respond militarily,
denying the president a key NATO ally that has steadfastly supported
In Washington, questions
about the veracity of the U.S. intelligence and whether Washington is
headed for another long war based on false information -- like happened
in Iraq -- have emerged from both parties in Congress.
"I assure you nobody
ends up being more war-weary than me," Obama said, adding that he was
not considering any option that would entail "boots on the ground" or a
Instead, Obama said, he
and his top military and security aides were looking at a "limited,
narrow act" to ensure that Syria and others know the United States and
its allies won't tolerate future similar future violations.
Kerry: "We will not repeat" Iraq
Earlier, Kerry insisted that the situation differs from Iraq, saying the intelligence community
"reviewed and re-reviewed" its information "more than mindful of the
Iraq experience." And he added: "We will not repeat that moment."
He cited particular evidence that shows al-Assad's regime was responsible.
"We know that for three
days before the attack, the Syrian regime's chemical weapons personnel
were on the ground in the area, making preparations," Kerry said. "And
we know that the Syrian regime elements were told to prepare for the
attack by putting on gas masks and taking precautions associated with
In addition, "we know
where the rockets were launched from, and at what time," he said. "We
know where they landed, and when. We know rockets came only from
regime-controlled areas and went only to opposition-controlled or
Quoting from the U.S. assessment, Kerry said the attack killed 1,429 people, including more than 400 children.
"We assess with high
confidence that the Syrian government carried out the chemical weapons
attack against opposition elements in the Damascus suburbs," he said.
has claimed that jihadists fighting on the opposition's side carried out
the chemical weapons attacks on August 21 to turn global sentiments
against it. Senior administration officials told reporters Friday there
is no evidence to support that claim.
Citing support from the
Arab League, Turkey and France, Kerry said, "We are not alone in our
will to do something" in response to the attack. He brushed off the
British Parliament vote against joining a military invention, saying
that the United States "makes our own decisions on our own timelines,
based on our values and our interests" in deciding the proper course of
Read the full assessment
Meanwhile, the U.N.
mission investigating the suspected chemical weapons attack in Syria has
completed its collection of samples, said Martin Nesirky, spokesman for
the U.N. secretary-general.
Nesirky told reporters
that inspectors visited a government military hospital in Damascus and
the last of them will leave Syria on Saturday.
Even as the inspection
was winding down, opposition activists said Friday there is evidence of
another deadly assault in Syria involving an incendiary agent. Seven
people died and dozens were injured Monday in the attack on a school in
As the U.N. inspectors
began leaving Syria on Friday, Obama met with his national security team
amid continuing U.S. signals of a possible military attack.
A U.N. Security Council
meeting on Syria ended in deadlock Thursday, and Secretary-General Ban
Ki-moon met Friday with the panel's five permanent members to try to
find consensus. So far, opposition by Russia to any military response
has scuttled U.N. action, and Kerry expressed little hope for a
"Because of the
guaranteed Russian obstructionism of any action through the U.N.
Security Council, the U.N. cannot galvanize the world to act as it
should," he said.
While the British vote
was a blow to Obama's hopes of getting strong support from key NATO
allies and some Arab League states, regional NATO ally Turkey on Friday
backed the U.S. contention that al-Assad's regime was responsible for
the chemical attack.
"The information at hand
indicates that the opposition does not have these types of
sophisticated weapons," said Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. "From our
perspective, there is no doubt that the regime is responsible."
Alone or together?
The White House has made clear that the United States will respond in some form to the use of chemical weapons.
Previously, it ruled out
U.S. troops on the ground or imposing a no-fly zone. Sources have
indicated a campaign of limited strikes by cruise missiles fired from
U.S. naval ships in the region, targeting military command centers but
not chemical weapons stockpiles, is the likely option.
However, the British
Parliament vote and demands by other key European allies, including
France and Germany, to put off a decision until after the U.N.
inspectors report on what happened in Syria have slowed the response
Francois Hollande told Le Monde newspaper that intervention should be
limited and not be directed toward al-Assad's overthrow, a position also
expressed by Obama.
On Friday, former President George W. Bush said Obama's "got a tough choice to make."
"I was not a fan of Mr.
Assad. He's an ally of Iran, he's made mischief," Bush told Fox News.
"If he (Obama) decides to use the military, he's got the greatest
military in the world backing him up."
Also Friday, another
Obama predecessor, former President Jimmy Carter, said "a punitive
military response without a U.N. Security Council mandate or broad
support from NATO and the Arab League would be illegal under
international law and unlikely to alter the course of the war."
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has repeatedly said the United States will respond to Syria in concert with allies.
"Our approach is to
continue to find an international coalition that will act together," he
told journalists Friday in Manila, Philippines.
Skeptics of military
action have pointed at the decision to use force in Iraq, when the
United States government under Bush marched to war based on a thin claim
that dictator Saddam Hussein was harboring weapons of mass destruction.
Opponents are conjuring
up a possible repeat of that scenario in Syria, though the intelligence
being gathered on the use of WMDs in Syria may be more sound.
An NBC News poll conducted Wednesday and Thursday indicated that 50% of the public says
the United States should not take military action against Damascus in
response to the Syrian government's alleged use of chemical weapons
against its own citizens, with 42% saying military action would be
But the survey suggested that if military action would be confined to air strikes using cruise missiles, support rises.
Supporters of a strong U.S. response say that no further proof is needed that the Syrian regime was responsible.
"Come on. Does anybody
really believe that those aren't chemical weapons -- those bodies of
those children stacked up?" Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona said
Thursday on CNN.
Democrats say Obama
needs to make the case to Congress that al-Assad's regime was
responsible and that a possible intervention won't get out of hand.
"The action has to have a
very limited purpose, and the purpose is to deter future use of
chemical weapons," Democratic Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland told
More than 160
legislators, including 63 of Obama's fellow Democrats, signed letters
calling for either a vote or at least a "full debate" before any U.S.
The author of one of
those letters, Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee of California, said Obama
should seek "an affirmative decision of Congress" before committing
American forces. Congress is in recess until September 9, though some
members advocate returning early to debate the matter.
Haunted by Iraq
intervention got voted down by Parliament, Prime Minister David Cameron
had said his government would not act without first hearing from the
U.N. inspectors and giving Parliament another chance to decide the
matter. But his opposition seemed to be reminded of the Iraq war.
"I think today the House
of Commons spoke for the British people who said they didn't want a
rush to war, and I was determined we learned the lessons of Iraq, and
I'm glad we've made the prime minister see sense this evening," Labour
Party leader Ed Miliband told the Press Association.
Though Cameron did not
need parliamentary approval to commit to an intervention, he felt it
important "to act as a democrat, to act a different way to previous
prime ministers and properly consult Parliament," he said Friday.
He regrets not being able to build a consensus of lawmakers, he said.