The government, Foreign Secretary William Hague said, recognizes “the deep concerns in this country about what happened over Iraq,” when a previous British government, over strong public and political opposition, supported a U.S. invasion based on what turned out to be false evidence of weapons of mass destruction. “We will be clear that we are determined to take action against war crimes” and the use of chemical weapons “on a consensual basis,” Hague said.
In what may mark the closing of the most immediate U.S. window of opportunity to launch a strike, Obama is scheduled to depart Tuesday night for Sweden, where he will spend a day before traveling to Russia for a meeting of the G-20 group of nations.
The administration also hopes to release on Thursday a declassified intelligence assessment of evidence that it says will prove the Assad government’s “undeniable” responsibility for the chemical attack outside Damascus. The U.N. investigators, charged with determining only whether chemical weapons were used, will not assess blame.
“Nobody disputes, or hardly anybody disputes, that chemical weapons were used on a large scale in Syria against civilian populations,” and the opposition does not possess the capability to undertake such attacks, Obama said.
Asked what a limited military strike would accomplish, Obama said that “the Assad regime, which is involved in a civil war trying to protect itself, will have received a pretty strong signal that it better not, in fact, do it again.”
“That doesn’t solve all the problems inside of Syria,” he said. Obama added that Assad needs to understand that by killing civilians and putting neighboring U.S. allies such as Turkey and Jordan at risk, he was “not only breaking international norms and standards of decency” but also had created “a situation where U.S. national interests are affected. And that needs to stop.”
In a letter Wednesday to Ban, Syria accused opposition forces of attacking its military on three occasions this month with a poison “close to what we call the nerve gas sarin,” the lethal compound the United States and others have said was used in the attack on rebel-held areas east of Damascus.
The letter asked inspectors to extend their deadline for departure, originally scheduled for this weekend, to investigate that claim.