US Secretary of State Kerry says world cannot let al-Assad get away with chemical attack

US Secretary of State Kerry says world cannot let al-Assad get away with chemical attack

WASHINGTON - Reuters / Agence France-Presse
US Secretary of State Kerry says world cannot let al-Assad get away with chemical attack

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry makes a statement about Syria at the State Department in Washington, Aug. 30. AP photo

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry made clear on Aug. 30 that the United States will punish Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for the "brutal and flagrant" chemical weapons attack that he said killed 1,429 people, including 426 children in Damascus last week. 

Kerry said it was essential not to let Syria get away with the attack, partly as a sign to those who might consider using chemical weapons in the future, and said the United States was joined by allies including France, in its determination to act.

"It matters here if nothing is done," Kerry said in a statement delivered at the State Department. "It matters if the world speaks out in condemnation and then nothing happens."

He also stressed anything that the United States might do would be carefully tailored and would not in any way resemble the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, nor its intervention to help topple former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

Kerry stressed that international failure to take military action against Syria over its chemical weapons use would embolden Iran and Hezbollah.

"This matter also goes beyond the limits of Syria's borders," he said, in a statement that left little doubt that U.S. military action against Syria was imminent.

"It's about whether Iran, which itself has been a victim of chemical weapons attacks, will now feel emboldened in the absence of action to obtain nuclear weapons. It's about Hezbollah and every other terrorist group that might contemplate the use of weapons of mass destruction." 

Regime forces behind attack

Kerry laid out a raft of evidence he said showed Assad's forces were behind the attack, and the U.S. Government released an unclassified intelligence report at the same time including many of the details. 

The report said the Aug. 21 attack killed 1,429 Syrian civilians, including 426 children.

John Kerry said that the U.S. had carefully examined its intelligence on Syria's weapons and would not repeat the mistakes that preceded the Iraq war.

"Our intelligence community has carefully reviewed and re-reviewed information regarding this attack," he said, referring to last week's alleged chemical strike outside Damascus. "It's done so more than mindful of the Iraq experience. We will not repeat that moment." 

He added the U.S. knows that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons multiple times this year.

Kerry emphasized that Syrian regime personnel were at the site of the attack for three days beforehand, making preparations. He says regime elements were told to prepare by putting on gas masks.

Kerry said the U.S. also knows where the rockets were launched from. He said the rockets came from regime-controlled areas.

The U.S. is releasing a public report on intelligence gathered about last week's deadly attack. President Barack Obama is using the report, which includes the details made public by Kerry, to make the case for retaliation against the Syrian government.

The intelligence gathered for the U.S. report included an intercepted communication by a senior official intimately familiar with the attack as well as other human, signals and satellite intelligence, the four-page report said.