Kerry condemns Syria: 'It matters here if nothing is done'
By NBC News
U.S. Sec. of State John Kerry laid out evidence that Assad killed more than 1,400 people through a chemical attack.
By F. Brinley Bruton and Erin McClam, NBC News
(NBC) - Making a forceful case to answer a "crime against conscience,"
Secretary of State John Kerry declared Friday that the United States had
a moral obligation to punish Syria for using chemical weapons —
painting a ghastly portrait of twitching bodies, victims foaming at the
mouth and row upon row of children gassed to death.
Syrian leader Bashar Assad "a thug and a murderer" and pledged, to a
country weary after more than a decade of war in the Middle East, that
the American response would not require ground troops and would not be
President Barack Obama said he had not made a decision
on military action, but echoed Kerry in saying any U.S. action would be
limited. The United States has an obligation "as a leader in the world"
to hold foreign nations to account when they use prohibited weapons,
the president said.
"This kind of offense is a challenge to the world," said Obama after a
meeting with Baltic leaders. While the U.S. would prefer to act with
the broad support of the international community, which has so far not
been forthcoming, Obama said, "we don't want the world to be paralyzed."
administration official confirmed that Obama spoke with British Prime
Minister David Cameron and French President Francois Hollande on Friday.
Americans skeptical, members of Congress raising questions and other
nations outright objecting to a U.S. attack, Kerry said the world had to
answer what he called a crime against humanity itself, carried out last
week in the suburbs of the Syrian capital. He revealed that the attack
had killed 1,429 people, including 426 children.
"Instead of being
tucked safely in their beds at home," he said, "we saw rows of
children lying side by side, sprawled on a hospital floor, all of them
dead from Assad's gas, and surrounded by parents and grandparents who
had suffered the same fate."
He declared: "My friends, it matters
here if nothing is done. It matters if the world speaks out in
condemnation and then nothing happens."
Referring directly to the long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said:
"Fatigue does not absolve us of our responsibility. Just longing for
peace does not necessarily bring it about."
As he spoke, the White
House released an intelligence report claiming "high confidence" that
the Syrian regime had used chemical weapons in the attack. The report
cited a "large body of independent sources" but acknowledged that not
all the evidence could be declassified.
Kerry encouraged Americans
to read the report for themselves. He gave details of the American
intelligence findings, including that Syrian rockets carrying chemical
agents had been fired only from regime-controlled areas and had landed
only in rebel-dominated areas.
Of the victims, he said: "We know
what the doctors treating them didn't report. Not a scratch. Not a
shrapnel wound. Not a cut. Not a gunshot wound. We saw rows of dead,
lined up in burial shrouds, the white linen unstained by a single drop
Britain, the most steadfast U.S. ally, rejected
military action in a stunning vote Thursday night. Acting through the
United Nations is a dead-end because China and Russia, which have veto
power in the Security Council, will not allow it.
And at home,
members of Congress have insisted that Obama get lawmakers' approval.
Americans appear to agree: In a poll released Friday by NBC News, almost
eight in 10 said they wanted the president to sell Congress on military
action before an attack.
Kerry acknowledged the hesitation and
said it was important for the administration to talk about the evidence
directly with Congress and the people. But the administration's
findings, he said, were clear and compelling.
"This is common
sense. This is evidence. These are facts," he said. "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?"
before Kerry spoke, the United Nations said that its chemical weapons
inspectors had finished collecting samples from the site of the attack.
But it said a complete analysis would take time and offered no sense of
when it would be complete.
The NBC News poll found that support
among Americans is higher for a limited military strike, such as cruise
missiles fired from Navy warships in the Mediterranean Sea. But half of
Americans are opposed to any military attack on Syria.
Before Kerry spoke, Obama huddled with his National Security Council on Syria at the White House.
On Thursday, top Obama administration officials — including National
Security Adviser Susan Rice, Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense
Secretary Chuck Hagel — scrambled to build support for a strike among
key members of Congress.
White House officials told NBC News that
the administration was prepared for the United States to go it alone.
Still, even after a briefing from the administration officials, some
members of Congress were unconvinced.
opposition activists say a school was attacked Monday with a substance
they compared to Napalm, saying the only injuries recorded were burns
across 50 to 80 percent of victims' bodies. NBC's Richard Engel reports.
Buck McKeon, R-Calif. and the chairman of the House Armed Services
Committee, said he was disappointed that the president himself did not
take part in the briefing.
"One of the things that has really
bothered me is the president drawing a red line without knowing in his
mind what he would do if they crossed the red line," he said, referring
to a remark Obama made a year ago about Syria's potential use of
Other including members of Congress, including
Sens. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and Robert Menendez, D-N.J., emerged from the
briefing persuaded, NBC News reported.
In Syria on Friday, the
army bombed rebel-held areas of the capital, Damascus, and artillery
shelling and large explosions could be heard from the suburbs at late
morning. Stores were open, and people were shopping, even amid sounds of
Correspondent Bill Neely reported that traffic was
flowing in the center of the city but people were apprehensive about
whether — and when — missiles might rain down on them.
A Syrian official told Neely that officials were expecting a U.S. attack.
"We know its going to come, we just don't know when," Neely quoted the official as saying.
100,000 people are thought to have been killed since the uprising began
more than two years ago. Millions have been made homeless.
In Britain, Prime Minister David Cameron indicated he wouldn't proceed without parliamentary approval.
"I strongly believe in the need for a tough response in the use of
chemical weapons but I also believe in respecting the will of this House
of Commons," he said in the aftermath of his defeat.
vote was nonbinding, but Cameron's loss on even a symbolic vote likely
means there will be no second-round vote next week.
the BBC reported it had witnessed the aftermath of an incendiary bomb
dropped by a jet plane on a school playground in the province of Aleppo
in the north of the country. Scores of children were left with
napalm-like burns on their bodies, the BBC reported.
Thursday, December 5 2013 10:58 AM EST2013-12-05 15:58:22 GMT
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