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Kerry Says Syria Regime Made Careful Preparations for Chemical Attack, History Will Judge U.S. 'Extraordinarily Harshly' if We Don't Act

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U.S. releases intelligence assessment

Secretary of State John Kerry makes a statement about Syria at the State Department in Washington, Friday, Aug. 30, 2013. Kerry said the U.S. knows, based on intelligence, that the Syrian regime carefully prepared for days to launch a chemical weapons attack. (AP)

Saying the intelligence is clear, Obama administration officials on Friday said the scope of the chemical weapons attack in Syria last week was larger than first believed, and that Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime was behind it. Still, President Barack Obama has not made a final determination on addressing the matter yet, according to senior administration officials.

Secretary of State John Kerry makes a statement about Syria at the State Department in Washington, Friday, Aug. 30, 2013. Kerry said the U.S. knows, based on intelligence, that the Syrian regime carefully prepared for days to launch a chemical weapons attack. (AP)

“The United States government now knows that at least 1,429 Syrians were killed in this attack, including at least 426 children. 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,” Secretary of State John Kerry said in a public address. “This is the indiscriminate, inconceivable horror of chemical weapons. This is what Assad did to his own people.”

Kerry was among officials that met at the White House with Obama Friday morning, along with Vice President Joe Biden, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey and Central Intelligence Agency Director John Brennan.

The administration believes Assad's regime used chemical weapons against his people on Aug. 21. The White House released a four-page declassified assessment concluding the Assad regime carried out the attack.

The intelligence assessment was reviewed by every level of the U.S. intelligence community, senior administration officials said. The president is still reviewing and receiving advice on option to enforce “consequences and accountability” for Assad.

In his public address, Kerry addressed public opinion about a military option.

“Now, we know that after a decade of conflict, the American people are tired of war. Believe me, I am, too,” Kerry said. “But fatigue does not absolve us of our responsibility. Just longing for peace does not necessarily bring it about and history would judge us all extraordinarily harshly if we turned a blind eye to a dictator’s wanton use of weapons of mass destruction against all warnings, against all common understanding of decency, these things we do know.”

Kerry, formerly a U.S. senator, said that the administration is very active in keeping Congress abreast of the matter. Kerry and other administration officials talked to 15 members of Congress in a conference call Thursday.

He also addressed international law, even as it appears the U.S. may act unilaterally.

“It matters today that we are working as an international community to rid the world of the worst weapons,” Kerry said. “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.”

He added, “It is directly related to our credibility and whether countries still believe the United States when it says something. They are watching to see if Syria can get away with it, because then maybe they too can put the world at greater risk.”

The intelligence assessment stated, "The Syrian regime has initiated an effort to rid the Damascus suburbs of opposition forces using the area as a base to stage attacks against regime targets in the capital. The regime has failed to clear dozens of Damascus neighborhoods of opposition elements, including neighborhoods targeted on August 21, despite employing nearly all of its conventional weapons systems. We assess that the regime’s frustration with its inability to secure large portions of Damascus may have contributed to its decision to use chemical weapons on August 21.

It later discussed the locations targeted.

"We have a body of information, including past Syrian practice, that leads us to conclude that regime officials were witting of and directed the attack on August 21," the report said. "We intercepted communications involving a senior official intimately familiar with the offensive who confirmed that chemical weapons were used by the regime on August 21 and was concerned with the U.N. inspectors obtaining evidence. On the afternoon of August 21, we have intelligence that Syrian chemical weapons personnel were directed to cease operations. At the same time, the regime intensified the artillery barrage targeting many of the neighborhoods where chemical attacks occurred. In the 24 hour period after the attack, we detected indications of artillery and rocket fire at a rate approximately four times higher than the ten preceding days."

This post has been updated.

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