Mounting evidence of a chemical weapons attack by government forces in Syria has prompted President Obama to warn that he’ll speed up his decision on how to act.
During an interview that aired Friday on CNN, the commander in chief told host Chris Cuomo that this week’s alleged chemical attack on civilians was “clearly a big event of grave concern.” He said U.S. authorities are still trying to gather information on exactly what happened but that “this is something that is going to require America’s attention.”
There have been estimates by Syrian rebels and activists that hundreds were killed, including women and children, during a suspected poison gas attack on the outskirts of Damascus on Wednesday. The Syrian government has denied allegations it was behind the attack in addition to ever using chemical weapons during Syria’s, ongoing bloody civil war, which has claimed the lives of more than 100,000 in two years.
Just over a year ago, President Obama said the use of chemical weapons would signal that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad crossed a “red line” and would result in the U.S. taking action.
When Cuomo asked if it’s fair to say America is on an “abbreviated timeframe” to make a decision in light of this week’s violence, Obama said “yes.”
A senior administration official told NBC News that State Department and intelligence agencies met at the White House for three hours on Thursday to discuss their options in Syria.
The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said “We have a range of options available and we are going to act very deliberately so that we’re making decision consistent with our national interest as well as our assessment of what can advance our objective in Syria.”
Former senior-Obama adviser David Axelrod on Friday predicted that the images from this week’s alleged chemical attack would spur the president to act. “There’s nothing more impactful than film, pictures, images, and those images are searing. Everyone has seen them,” he said. “Plainly, there needs to be action. The question is, what action?”
Thus far, both putting boots on the ground and instituting a no fly zone are not being discussed.
Obama said the U.S. has called on the Syrian government to allow investigation of the alleged chemical weapons attack, adding, however that “We don’t expect cooperation, given their past history.” Obama added he wanted to rely on international support first.
“If the U.S. goes in and attacks another country without a U.N. mandate and without clear evidence that can be presented, then there are questions in terms of whether international law supports it – do we have the coalition to make it work” the president told CNN. “Those are considerations that we have to take into account.”
A U.N. team of weapons inspectors reportedly arrived in Syria on Sunday to look into previous claims of the use of chemical weapons by Assad’s forces.
Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague said on Friday that “We do believe that this is a chemical attack by the Assad regime on a large scale,” and urged the U.N. to demand immediate access to the site.
Obama is facing increased pressure to act, with some, including Republican Sen. John McCain urging for immediate military intervention. He said it wouldn’t necessarily mean putting boots on the ground but could include taking out runways and aircrafts being used in the attacks.
“Last week marked the two-year anniversary of President Obama’s call for Assad to leave power. It has been a year since the president said that the use of chemical weapons in Syria would constitute the crossing of a red line,” McCain said in a statement. “But, because these threats have not been backed up by any real consequences, they have rung hollow. As a result, the killing goes on, Assad remains in power, and his use of chemical weapons against Syrian civilians apparently continues.”