Obama Considers Response to Syrian Chemical Weapons Use

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney answers questions on the developing situation in Syria.
34:48 | 08/26/13

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Transcript for Obama Considers Response to Syrian Chemical Weapons Use
-- this special group. Report from ABC news. I'm -- -- and is in New York with an ABC news digital special report white house Press Secretary Jay Carney is about to deliver. The daily briefing just a short time after secretary of state John -- and the suffering. From the chemical -- in Syria will not be ignored that Carney at the podium right now -- Syria will likely be the focus again let's listen. But again I thank you for your patience I have no announcement of my own to make it the top. Except to say that I'm glad to be back to glad to be with his. And with that I turn to the Associated Press. Pretty tough language factor here today. Over the options that he. -- -- -- Nearly three -- Cory -- the actions. And it changed the. Thanks for your question. -- -- I think made clear not long ago this. What we are evaluating now. Is a response to. The clear use on a mass scale -- Repugnant results. Of chemical weapons and there is very little doubt. Days. The Syrian regime the Asad regime. And use those weapons because. They have maintained. Control of the stockpile of chemical weapons in Syria. They alone have the capacity to use rockets to deliver. Chemical weapons. And they have continued to while they had prior to the use of chemical weapons tried to clear that neighborhood. And have continued to shelf that neighborhood in the aftermath of the use of chemical weapons. So what we are talking about here as secretary made that clear image clear is -- A response -- -- clear violation of an international norm. And it is profoundly in the interest of the United States. And of the international community that that. Violation of an international norm. He responded to. We have seen as secretary Kerry said the horrific. Results. The use of chemical weapons we have seen with our own -- and the evidence -- Chemical weapons were used his undeniable. And the proof. Comes from. Sources well beyond the US government open sources international organizations witnesses on the ground. This violation. Has to be taken very seriously. And president is consulting with his national security team. The international community is. Rather the inner the intelligence community is further assessing. And evaluating what happened and we will be able to share with you assessment. The IC. In the coming days about. The use. Chemical weapons on August 21. And the president will continue to consult and review his options in terms of responding to it. Now we have a clear policy with regards to the conflict within Syria as well and we have obviously. Provided substantial assistance to the opposition and we will continue to do that but it is important to. Make a distinction here. Head when it comes to this violation of an international enormous not just -- an incident -- Pertains only to Syria or to the region it is an. A violation it -- the whole world the president himself has broken. That is what will be considered. -- not going to speculate about. Potential responses I'm going to -- -- secretary Kerry did it. The fact that chemical weapons were used on of widespread basis. Against innocent civilians. With tragic results is undeniable. And there is very little doubt in our minds this. Syrian regime. It's called. We are continuing to review. A potential responses to consult with our allies and partners. And with congress has. We make that -- But I'm not going to. You know engage in hypotheticals about potential responses or. What. Might occur after any response. Or any decision is made of -- response -- the president -- Congressional. So. I think you have heard the president speak on this issue in the past and I think you can expect to hear him speak on it again. As he evaluates the potential. Options and responses. And as he makes a decision about -- potential response but he has not made that decision and when he does I'm sure. You'll hear from him. When it comes to congress were consulting with congress and we'll continue to do that moment when it comes to. The international community the president as you know as we read out has had conversations with key allies leaders of allied nations and we'll continue to have conversations. With other foreign leaders. And will. Make information available about those conversations. As they occur and you distinction Internet. Yeah that's you're getting into a hypothetical about a decision that hasn't been made. So I'll refrain from doing that except to make clear -- president is consulting with. For the international community as well as secretary -- broadly with the his counterparts around the world. And that will continue. I'm not -- speculate about time for him. The president. As secretary Kerry made clear at the president's direction. Considers what happened in Syria. And the use of chemical weapons on this scale to be. Horrific. Violation of an international norm. It's extremely serious matter. And he is evaluating. The appropriate response. But I'm not going to speculate about the timing of the response -- decision. Secretary Kerry referred to additional information that the United States has about the attack. What I can tell -- like I mentioned is that the intelligence community is. Making assessments and when it has a formal assessment we will be able to share -- conclusions with -- In the coming days that's what the secretary is referring to what what legal basis -- I'm not gonna speculate about a decision that hasn't been made. It's the fact that Americans -- Involvement war factor into the president. Thinking and decision. The president makes decisions. About. Military action or potential military action. With the national security interests of the United States in mind. There is no way to your decision for the president. And he has made that clear on numerous occasions. And he makes decisions. Of that nature based on what he views as the long term interest of the United States. Again. As secretary Kerry made clear and as I just repeated this is a matter this. Is distinct from. Although part of the conflict in Syria this is a violation of a long held international norm that bans the use of chemical weapons. On a widespread scale. With horrific. Morally obscene as secretary Kerry -- consequences. The president again as I mentioned is. Has been and will consult with -- foreign leaders international partners and allies -- don't have. The specifics to. Preview for you we have read out some of those conversations will provide more information for you about them when it comes to. Rush I think it's important to make clear. Did the use of chemical weapons on a widespread scale on August -- -- first on the outskirts of Damascus. His undeniable the international community has already concluded that it occurred even Russia. And Iran have concluded and make clear that they believe chemical weapons weeks. The United Nations mandate the inspection teams mandate is merely to establish whether chemical weapons. Were used and that has already been established. United Nations team does not have a mandate to establish culpability. And so it is our belief. As I think the secretary made clear that. The regime in Syria has. Made obvious their attempts to conclude a credible investigation. Into what happened. Having stated initially that they welcomed. The inspection team to. Make an analysis they then plopped that team from. Having access to the region for five days while they bombarded the region to destroy evidence. Today the United Nations team caravan was attacked. In route to the site. And upon. Its return from his first day of work from the site the neighborhood was again bombarded and shelled. In a further indication of the utter lack of credibility of the Syrian regime on this -- And we do not believe that that credibility is going to suddenly be. Restore. -- This afternoon secretary Kerry expressed his personal feelings about what he thought. About the images that -- -- Syria has the president expressed what he. You first saw these images. Which has -- reaction. Secretary Kerry spoke today -- the president's direction. The president shares secretary carries. Sentiments. I think it all of us who have seen. The visual evidence. -- repulsed by. And heartbroken by. And it demonstrates a disregard for international norms of behavior and -- disregard for innocent life. And in this case for the innocent life a fellow Syrians that is appalling. Indiscriminate killing of innocent women and children. In it. An attempt. Maintained. His bloody grasp on to power. Is despicable. But that is what we've come to expect from -- -- -- side. -- Earlier this summer there was some reporting out there that there were divisions -- there was sort of split. Inside the president's national security team that's what to do about Syria. Chairman of the joint chiefs Martin Dempsey wrote letters to congress talking addressing his concerns -- -- should be cautious about unintended consequences. Would you say that there's a more united front now given the secretary's comments after you can what you're -- Well I think in response to that question I would not make clear again that what we are talking about here is. The potential response. In consultation with our allies and partners in consultation with -- congress. To this specific. Violation of an international. By the widespread use of the chemical weapons. And while it is part of this ongoing Syrian conflict in which we have an interest in which we have a clear stated position and it is distinct. In that -- -- So. The president himself has spoken to the issues around an hour. Support for the opposition for -- in and our views on the conflict in Syria. But let's be clear that we have substantially stepped up our support for the opposition. And we did so. Fairly recently in response to our assessment that the Syrian regime had clearly used on a much smaller scale but in numerous incidents -- -- -- Chemical weapons. This is on a entirely. Larger scale. And that is in response -- that were evaluating potential -- actions. So that the US has stepped up its -- to the rebels there. At this point given what we've seen. In the past week is that now insufficient response. In the eyes of this administration were something we're now necessary. Well I just made reference to the increased us support for the opposition. In response to the previously established. Use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime on -- smaller scale -- small scale. We are now evaluating the widespread. Use. Toward the the use of in a widespread attack. Chemical weapons with a devastating consequences and hundreds of fatalities and thousands. Casualties. And a written response to that so those are distinct. Back to the first question. He stated potential there's. -- so there would be a response they're different levels different scale. Are you is the president looking to. Punish. The Syrian regime. Court -- denied the regime access to chemical weapons -- to turn the tide. I don't think you do that it would give us a sense there. -- in determining what is president taking account this -- and that level escape. Well let me be clear that. We are assessing potential response were a response to. The use of chemical weapons. On August when he first and the fact that those weapons were used with devastating consequences for innocent women and children and others. Is absolutely undergone. And I think I got the question earlier about the distinction between. The ongoing conflict in Syria and our support for the opposition which has been stepped up in which continues. On the one hand and a response to this specific violation of an international. And a violation which we believe there is very little doubt was committed by the Syrian -- And we are engaging in in this -- secretary Kerry reference and I spoke to minutes ago -- answer to Jeff. An assessment by the intelligence community further assessment that -- when it's concluded we will. Provide conclusions. To you. About this for specific incident. But in answer your question we are the president and his team are evaluating. Options. With regards to responses. To this specific violation of an international -- the prohibited. Use of chemical weapons against civilian populations. And that is. Part of but distinct from the ongoing conflict in Syria and our support for the opposition so any kind of retaliation. Would -- specifically for this. -- -- -- -- Of the wars. And -- and speculate about what what the decision will be when it's made obviously we will make it clear and and make it clear to the public what -- views are and what our actions will be. But. The answer broadly is -- that we are considering responses to this transgression. Into this violation of an international. We are continuing our support for the opposition in its. Fight against Assad. But we also have made clear. For a long time now that there is not a military solution to that conflict there has to be a political solution that ultimately -- -- -- -- -- side. To allow for. A better future for the Syrian people G -- pretty -- Fox's horror. The president to take action and I'm not gonna speculate about time lines we obviously consider this matter. To be grave and serious. And I think as secretary Kerry reflected in his remarks earlier today. We are giving it a great deal of attention. Make it -- -- Since the -- President asked about this on Friday he was not this city. Insertion of culpability. Or sense of moral outrage carrier -- here it was today. Did the evidence. Presented that the Saturday national security meeting to the president pardon process. Himself personally but the national security team. This is -- more conclusive assessment that can be made and that are responsible. I think we have. In the days since the chemical weapons attack. Both. Through means that we have. But also more broadly. Through open sources and and other sources established very clearly and undeniably -- chemical weapons were used on a broad scale. On August when he first. Outside of Damascus. And I'm that the meeting on Saturday I'm sure. -- reinforce. That factual foundation. I think when the president had the interview we were still. Only -- -- and after two days. In the aftermath of the attack itself. I think secretary Kerry's statements today reflect. Very clearly and specifically the president's views in the entire administration's views about what happened. About the fact that the use of chemical weapons on a broad scale is undeniable. And our view. And I think. Clearly logical view. -- because Syria has -- the Syrian regime has maintained maintain control. Syria's stockpile of chemical weapons because -- Syria. The Syrian regime alone has the capacity to deliver those weapons via rockets. And because of the actions that serious taken in that neighborhood both prior to and in the aftermath of the attack. That is that there's very little doubt that the Syrian regime is responsible for this -- But as secretary Kerry said and I said there is an assessment ongoing formal assessment ongoing by the intelligence community and when. That assessment is included in the coming days we'll. -- make those conclusions found. Fair to say. You have against us. Now not heart -- you don't have access sign and plus and it's probably good story. This is a circumstantial or infringement case to -- -- -- you're -- -- years. -- -- Issues one is did a chemical weapons attack -- Undeniably. The answer that question is yes. Iran and Russia. Keep in Iran and Russia agree with us. And the world on that fast pass a separate issues culpability and we believe there is very little doubt about culpability for the reasons that I said but we obviously. Are continuing to make evidence well I don't have. Presentation to make to -- today. The intelligence community obviously is assessing -- and and has gathered and we'll continue to gather. Information in that assessment and -- conclusions. Have been reached we will provide them -- and so community church did that fact based conclude. To preceded any action -- fire. I don't want to get into time lines and I don't want to speculate about this. Good well that process related to a timeline but again I think the international community the intelligence community is making an assessment we will have. Conclusions about that assessment. Available for you in the coming days meanwhile obviously. Working with that information as well -- with the preponderance. Outside information that. Make the use of chemical weapons undeniable. The president and his national security team are evaluating their -- Since you mentioned political solution isn't practical is it reasonable anymore. Envision any sort of negotiating peace conference. Which has been long discussed with the regime is now from the administration support you very -- -- weapons violation. Some of the opposition -- and it is no interest and outside of -- militarily achieve. -- his administration's -- All that hot prospect. Well my religious belief. -- -- a good question and I and I would say in answer to it that we certainly believe that ultimately there is no solution here that does not. Require. A political negotiated settlement. The fact this side has continued to. Barb Derrek Lee attacked his own people using means now that. Boggle the mind. And violate international norms. Makes the potential for that kind of negotiated. Solution more difficult but there is no solution as we have long made clear for serious future that includes a side. And we because of the situation on the ground because of the military conflict have provided. Enormous amounts of humanitarian assistance of the Syrian people and substantial. Assistance to the Syrian military out. Opposition. An executive described the strategic. Difference war the American. -- have been countless women and children slaughtered. These 100000 victims maybe. There is -- writing today look this is about responding. What is the strategic difference the United States -- to a -- trying to minimize. But what's different today 300 casualties of one. Barbaric act of war. And 300 others or for that matter a 100000 what it takes this to a strategic level of importance thin -- envisioned US military response. I think that's an excellent question I appreciate the opportunity to. Make clear what -- is distinct about. This particular atrocity. The use of chemical weapons is contrary to the standards adopted by the vast majority of nations. And international efforts since World War I to eliminate the use of such weapons. The international norm against the use of chemical weapons is fundamental. To the interest of the United States. And of the international community. The use of these weapons on a mass scale and the potential risk of proliferation is a threat to our national interest. And -- concerned of the entire war. It is because that this international -- exists. Because it has been so clearly violated. There. We end. Many around the world have to assess an appropriate. Response. Without question there is ongoing. Barbarians Syria perpetrated by his -- regime and we have. Provided substantial assistance to the Syrian opposition and will continue to provide. Substantial assistance to the Syrian opposition. In their struggle -- A side. This instance this use of chemical weapons. Is distinct. Because it's so clearly violates. An international -- that has been -- -- -- very long time. So by standard and give you a better legal -- to actually launch military action because. Killing 10220000. People also violates international more. I would say admit I'm not going to speculate about decisions that haven't been made. I would simply say this. As I just mentioned this. International standard this international norm is. Something it has been adopted by a vast majority of nations. It is. -- reflects an effort that has been engaged in by. The vast majority of nations since World War I and the for those who know their history. Horrific use of chemical weapons and that conflict. And therefore it. It is a distinct. Problem that requires a response. To a -- one. Talk about UN's role in this because my understanding of the inspectors there may be. Only allows them to determine whether god. Weapons were used to not whose Cold War and to -- this question earlier. You've already the US government authority charm and -- it seems like one. Chemical weapons were used and to you believe you know was called home so -- -- waiting for you and people what is their role in this if you morning. Made that conclusion. Well I'd say a couple of things we have concluded as. Have almost. Everyone has an interest or express an opinion on this matter the chemical weapons were used on August when he first. Russia and Iran have concluded as much. We believe there is very little doubt for the reasons that I have made clear did the Syrian regime was responsible for the use of chemical weapons -- that day because they have maintained. Control of the stockpile of chemical weapons in Syria. Because the Syrian regime alone has that capacity to deliver those weapons with rockets. And because of the actions the Syrian regime has taken to clear this area. Prior to the attack and the fact that they have shelled it continuously. Since the attack. And are shelling it now. Today. In in the wake of the visit by the UN inspectors now when it comes in the inspectors and their investigation. Let's remember that we. Led to calls for that. Four UN inspection. Love the potential chemical weapons sites in Syria. We. We're highly critical. The Syrian regime for blocking. Entry and access. To that inspection team. But at this point we do not have confidence that the UN can conduct a credible inquiry into what happened. And we are concerned that the Syrian government's continued obstruction and delay of the inquiry is designed to create more time and space. For their continue to -- -- And as -- state and you're absolutely right. The UN. Has made clear that their teams -- mandate extends only to establishing whether or not chemical weapons were used. We've already established a chemical weapons. -- -- -- not just the United States government but governments around the world including Russia and Iran. Independent organizations humanitarian organizations including. Doctors Without Borders and and the Syrian Human Rights Council. The visual evidence is overwhelming and compelling. So we have established already that the weapons were use. On the issue of culpability. We haven't. Concluded but we believe there is very little doubt there's the regime is called. We -- continuing assessments and will provide. Conclusions. When we have them for it may well do not believe it. Did the suggestions but from some quarters. -- That this whole thing is contrived. Or dead the Syrian regime. Was not responsible. Are very credible enough for all the reasons that we have all been able to see NS and the value. But based on the president's own criticism of previous administration. Not being able to clearly established. Use of WD. If you're now acknowledging the UN doesn't have the mandate to determine that anyway. What will president used to decide whether or not take US military action if we are continuing to assess the matter of culpability we believe and I think the evidence is overwhelming that there's very little doubt that the Syrian regime is culpable but we will continue to establish. Or -- The incident and we'll have more information for US secretary Kerry mentioned. In the coming days about that matter. But. In the meantime we should we should make clear from here and from the State Department and elsewhere in and in capitals around the world that. The Syrian regime. Has very little credibility on this matter at the Syrian regime. Had any interest -- secretary Kerry said earlier in. Proving that they were not helpful. They had the opportunity to allow that UN inspection team. To visit the site. Immediately. Instead they blocked access for five days why that while they shells. The neighborhood. Killing more innocent civilians. In an attempt to destroy evidence. And even today. When the inspection team began its trip to the region. Where the attack occurred. His convoy was attacked. They had to turn back and then they. We're able to make it later into the region after they left the Syrian regime started shelling and -- The credibility here. Does not exist class. It's been a year ago this month the president laid out the -- -- since then many -- military analysts -- Anthony -- is out today saying. Besides only gotten stronger since then. The rebels have become more fractures and said it sold more broadly how -- the administration tell. Military action is not too little too late that too much time has passed -- -- -- Take that question. In pieces and first of all on the issue of the Red Line. That was a reference to the potential of the time use of chemical weapons. And when it was established. By -- the chemical weapons had been used on a very small scale but in several instances by the Syrian regime. We took action we stepped up our. Assistance direct assistance to the Syrian opposition to military opposition. And now. As we have and the world has established a chemical weapons -- use -- a much broader and more horrific scale. Just a few days ago we are working to establish culpability in this -- we believe there's very little doubt about culpability. And we will. Consider the options and the president will make a decision and and obviously we'll hear from him about that. On the issue. The ongoing conflict. There is no question that it continues to be a brutal and the -- continues to. Use every means available to him to assault his own people. And the conflict is far at this point from resolution. But for that reason we and others have continued to step up our assistance of the opposition. And we will work with the opposition going forward. But as I've tried to make clear in response -- earlier questions this is a that the transgression here the violation of this international norms a distinct issue. And we are considering options in response to a tragedy QBs. -- secretary. That legal finding. I'm not -- been watching the daily white house press briefing with Press Secretary Jay Carney echoing the strong statements earlier from secretary of state John Terry regarding Syria. According to -- they are no new specifics on president Obama's ultimate course of action. And he says the administration continues to consult with. Congress and the international community. About the crisis in Syria it in yet another example of a very public shift -- administration now saying concretely is no longer a question. That chemical weapons were used by the Asad regime in that infamous attack outside -- mass was on August 21. This briefing as -- concedes continuing we're -- stream live on abcnews.com. -- continue watching. For now united on -- Hernandez in New -- here it is you. This has been a special report from the.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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