U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry declared on Friday that Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad on August 21 used chemical weapons against his own people.
In a live statement on Syria which some analysts said laid the groundwork for an impending strike in the war-torn country, Kerry said that the attack killed at least 1,400 people, including some 400 children.
“President Obama has spent many days now consulting with Congress and talking with leaders around the world about the situation in Syria,” said Kerry.
“Our intelligence community has carefully reviewed and re-reviewed information regarding this attack. And I will tell you it has done so more than mindful of the Iraq experience. We will not repeat that moment. Accordingly, we have taken unprecedented steps to declassify and make facts available to people who can judge for themselves.
“We know that the Assad regime has the largest chemical weapons programs in the entire Middle East,” he said. “We know that the regime has used those weapons multiple times this year, and has used them on a smaller scale but still it has used them against its own people, including not very far from where last Wednesday’s attack happened.
“We know that the regime was specifically determined to rid the Damascus suburbs of the opposition, and it was frustrated that it hadn’t succeeded in doing so,” declared Kerry.
“We know that for three days before the attack, the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons personnel were on the ground in the area, making preparations.
“And we know that the Syrian regime elements were told to prepare for the attack by putting on gas masks and taking precautions associated with chemical weapons.
“We know that these were specific instructions.
“We know where the rockets were launched from, and at what time. We know where they landed, and when. We know rockets came only from regime-controlled areas and went only to opposition-controlled or contested neighborhoods.
“And we know, as does the world, that just 90 minutes later all hell broke loose in the social media. With our own eyes we have seen the thousands of reports from 11 separate sites in the Damascus suburbs. All of them show and report victims with breathing difficulties, people twitching with spasms, coughing, rapid heartbeats, foaming at the mouth, unconsciousness, and death. And we know it was ordinary Syrian citizens who reported all of these horrors,” said Kerry.
“The United States government now knows that at least 1,429 Syrians were killed in this attack, including at least 426 children,” he added. “Even the first-responders, the doctors, nurses and medics who tried to save them, they became victims themselves. We saw them gasping for air, terrified that their own lives were in danger.
“This is the indiscriminate, inconceivable horror of chemical weapons. This is what Assad did to his own people.
“We also know many disturbing details about the aftermath. 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.
“We know this.
“And we know what they did next. I personally called the foreign minister of Syria, and I said to him, ‘If, as you say, your nation has nothing to hide then let the United Nations in immediately and give the inspectors the unfettered access, so they have the opportunity to tell your story.’
“Instead,” said Kerry, “for four days, they shelled the neighborhood in order to destroy evidence, bombarding block after black at a rate four times higher than they had over the previous 10 days. And, when the UN inspectors finally gained access, that access -- as we now know -- was restricted and controlled.
“In all of these things that I have listed, in all of these things that we know -- all of them -- the American intelligence community has high confidence, high confidence. This is common sense. This is evidence. These are facts.
“So the primary question is really no longer, what do we know. The question is, what are we -- we collectively -- what are we in the world going to do about it.
Kerry added, “It matters today that we are working as an international community to rid the world of the worst weapons. That’s why we signed agreements like the START Treaty, the New START Treaty, the Chemical Weapons Convention, which more than 180 countries, including Iran, Iraq and Lebanon, have signed on to.
“It matters to our security and the security of our allies. It matters to Israel. It matters to our close friends Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon, all of whom live just a stiff breeze away from Damascus. It matters to all of them where the Syrian chemical weapons are -- and if unchecked they can cause even greater death and destruction to those friends.
“And it matters deeply to the credibility and the future interests of the United States of America and our allies. It matters because a lot of other countries, whose policy has challenged these international norms, are watching. They are watching. They want to see whether the United States and our friends mean what we say.
“It matters because if we choose to live in the world where a thug and a murderer like Bashar al-Assad can gas thousands of his own people with impunity, even after the United States and our allies said no, and then the world does nothing about it, there will be no end to the test of our resolve and the dangers that will flow from those others who believe that they can do as they will,” said Kerry.
“It is about Hezbollah and North Korea and every other terrorist group or dictator that might ever again contemplate the use of weapons of mass destruction. Will they remember that the Assad regime was stopped from those weapons’ current or future use? Or will they remember that the world stood aside and created impunity?
“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,” said Kerry.
“And it matters to who we are. And it matters to leadership and to our credibility in the world.
“My friends, it matters here if nothing is done. It matters if the world speaks out in condemnation and then nothing happens.
“America should feel confident and gratified that we are not alone in our condemnation and we are not alone in our will to do something about it and to act.”
President Barack Obama, said Kerry, “does what he says that he will do. And he has said, very clearly, that whatever decision he makes in Syria it will bear no resemblance to Afghanistan, Iraq or even Libya. It will not involve any boots on the ground. It will not be open ended. And it will not assume responsibility for a civil war that is already well underway.
“The president has been clear: Any action that he might decide to take will be limited and (sic) tailored response to ensure that, a despots brutal and flagrant use of chemical weapons is held accountable. And ultimately, ultimately we are committed -- we remain committed, we believe it’s -- the primary objective is (sic) to have a diplomatic process that can resolve this through negotiation, because we know there is no ultimate military solution.”
(Arutz Sheva’s North American Desk is keeping you updated until the start of Shabbat in New York. The time posted automatically on all Arutz Sheva articles, however, is Israeli time.)