The United States has high certainty that Syrian government forces carried out a chemical weapons attack in the Damascus suburbs on Aug. 21 — and that the U.S. would take appropriate action, if it chooses, with or without international support.
That was the strong message delivered by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in a speech Friday afternoon in Washington, D.C. Kerry also outlined the key findings of a new, declassified report that states what the U.S. intelligence community believes about the attack, which Kerry says killed more than 1400 people, including at leas 426 children.
Kerry also called on the American people to make up their own minds about the attack after reading the report.
"Read for yourselves the verdict, reached by our intelligence community about the chemical weapons attack the Assad regime inflicted on the opposition and on opposition controlled or contested neighborhoods in the Damascus suburbs on the early morning of Aug. 21," he said.
Kerry's strong statement comes against a backdrop of international resistance to military attacks, with the French the only ally to publicly back military actions in concert with the United States. In Kerry's speech, he touted the French backing, calling France America's "oldest ally" — a statement sure to cause indigestion in London.
In the U.S. report, American intelligence officials say they tracked Syrian chemical weapons forces preparing weapons in the three days leading up to the attack, tracked rocket launches from Syrian controlled territory, tracked Syrian forces deploying gas masks and other anti-chemical weapons gear and even tracked a senior Syrian official confirming that the attack happened.
"We know that a senior regime official who knew about the attack confirmed that chemical weapons were used by the regime, reviewed the impact, and actually was afraid that they would be discovered," Kerry said.
Some 3600 people were brought to hospitals in a matter of hours in the immediate aftermath of the attack, the report said, and Kerry pointed out that these people, many of whom died, had no visible injuries. That's consistent with exposure to a chemical agent, like sarin gas. The U.S. report cites sarin gas, a never agent, as the most likely weapon used in the attack.
In laying out the case for U.S. action in Syria, Kerry said the international community must act because "the world’s most heinous weapons must never again be used against the world’s most vulnerable people."
"We are the United States of America. We are the country that has tried, not always successfully, but always tried to honor a set of universal values around which we have organized our lives and our aspirations," Kerry said. "This crime against conscience, this crime against humanity, this crime against the most fundamental principles of international community, against the norm of the international community, this matters to us."