In a CNN interview Friday, Obama cited the need to “think through strategically what’s going to be in our long-term national interests” and to consult with allies. He said that he also had to consider international law.
International law generally requires U.N. Security Council approval for any military action against a member state, but Russia has vetoed several council resolutions intended to bring pressure on Assad and is unlikely to approve any call for intervention. White House and State Department lawyers have been seeking options outside U.N. confines, and consulting with countries, including Britain, that might join in a Syria operation.
Obama discussed Syria in a call Saturday with British Prime Minister David Cameron, the White House said.
As the administration continues to assemble evidence about the chemical attack, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human rights raised its estimated death toll from 136 to 322.
The international medical aid group Doctors Without Borders said that three hospitals it supports in Damascus reported seeing about 3,600 patients displaying “neurotoxicity symptoms” in less than three hours on the morning of the attack. Of those patients, it said, “355 reportedly died.”
Although its own personnel had not been able to visit the area, the group said in a statement that doctors at facilities there reported patients with symptoms including “convulsions, excess saliva, pinpoint pupils, blurred vision and respiratory distress,” and said they were treated with atropine.
The organization, also known as Médecins Sans Frontières, “can neither scientifically confirm the cause of these symptoms nor establish who is responsible for the attack,” said Bart Janssens, director of operations. “However, the reported symptoms of the patients, in addition to the epidemiological pattern of events — characterized by the massive influx . . . in a short period of time, the origin of the patients, and the contamination of medical and first-aid workers — strongly dictate mass exposure to a neurotoxic agent.”
Ernesto Londoño in Washington and Anne Gearan contributed to this report.