John Kerry Makes Case for Punishing Syria

Secretary of state outlines unclassified intelligence report detailing Syrian use of chemical weapons.
18:57 | 08/30/13

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Transcript for John Kerry Makes Case for Punishing Syria
President Obama has spent many days consulting -- congress and talking with leaders around the world about the situation in Syria. Last night the president passed all of us and his national security team. To consult with the leaders of congress as well. Including the leadership. Congressional national security committees. And he asked -- consult about what we know. Regarding the horrific chemical weapons attack. In the Damascus suburbs last week. I would tell you that as someone who spent nearly three decades in the United States congress. I know that that consultation is the right way for a president. Had to approach a decision of when and now and if to use military force. -- important to ask the tough questions. And get the tough answers before taking action not just afterwards. And I believe as President Obama does that it is also important. To discuss this directly with the American people. That's our responsibility. To talk with the citizens who have entrusted all of us. In the administration and the congress with responsibility. For their security. That's why this morning's release of our government's. Unclassified. Estimate of what took place in Syria is so important. Its findings. Are as clear as they are compelling and I'm not asking you to take my word for. Read for yourself. Everyone those listening. All of you read for yourselves the evidence. From thousands of sources. Evidence that is already publicly available. And read for yourselves the verdict. Reached by our intelligence community about the chemical weapons attack. The Assad regime inflicted on the opposition. And on opposition controlled or contested neighborhoods. In the Damascus suburbs. On the early morning of August 21. Our intelligence community has carefully. Reviewed. And -- review 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. But still. In order to protect sources and methods. Some of what we know. Will only be released to members of congress. The representatives of the American. People that. Means that some things we do know. We can't talk about publicly. So what do we really know that we can talk about. Well. We know that the Assad regime. Has the largest chemical weapon weapons program. In the entire Middle East. We know that the regime has used those weapons. Multiple times this year. And is used them on a smaller scale. But still it is 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. 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 don't where they land. And win. We -- rockets came -- only from regime controlled areas. And went only. Two opposition controlled or contested neighborhoods. And we know as does the world. That just ninety minutes later all hell broke loose in the social media. With our own eyes we have seen -- thousands of reports from eleven separate sites in the Damascus suburbs. All. Show and report victims with breathing difficulties. People twitching with spasms coughing rapid -- foaming at the mouth and consciousness. And death. And we know. It was ordinary. Syrian. Citizens. Who reported all of these horrors. And just as important. We know. What the doctors and the nurses who treated them didn't report. Not a scratch. Not -- shrapnel load not a cut not a gunshot wound. We sure -- rows of dead. Lined up in burial shrouds. The white linen un sustained by a single drop of blood. Instead of being tucked safely in their beds at home. With -- rows of children. Lying side by side. Sprawled on the hospital floor all of them. Dead from us -- gas. And surrounded by parents and grandparents. Who had suffered the same fate. The United States government now knows. That at least. 1429. 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. This is the indiscriminate. Inconceivable. Horror of chemical weapons. This is what us 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. Review 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 do and if as you say -- nation has nothing to hide. Then left the United Nations in immediately and give the inspectors the unfettered access. So they have the opportunity to tell your story. Instead. For four days. They shelled the neighborhood. In order to destroy evidence. Bombarding block after block at a rate. Four times higher than they had over the previous ten days. And when the UN inspectors finally gained access. That access -- 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 collected what are we in the world gonna do about it. As previous storms in history have gathered. When unspeakable crimes were within our power to stop them. We have been warned against the temptations of looking the other way. History is full of leaders who have warned against in action -- difference. And especially. Against silence. When it mattered most. Our choices then in history had great consequences. And our choice today as great consequences. It matters that nearly a hundred years ago in direct response to the utter horror. And inhumanity of World War I. That the civilized world agreed that chemical weapons should never be used again. That was the world's resolve them. And that began nearly a century of effort to create a clear red line for the international. Community. 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 are 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 -- if unchecked. They can cause even greater death and destruction to those friends. And it matters deeply. To the credibility in the future interest of the United States of America and our allies. It matters because a lot of other countries. Whose policies challenged these international norms. Are watching. There are watching. They want to see whether the United States and our friends mean what we say. 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 -- Can put the world at greater risk. And make no mistake. In an increasingly complicated world of sectarian. And religious extremist violence. What we choose to do or not do. Matters in real ways to our own security. Some cite the risk of doing things. We need to ask what is the risk of doing nothing. It matters because we choose to live in the world where a -- And a murderer. Like Bashar Al Assad -- gassed 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. This matters also. Beyond the limits of Syria's borders. It is about whether a -- Which itself has been a victim of chemical weapons attacks. Will now feel emboldened. In the absence of action to obtain nuclear weapons. It is about Hezbollah. And North Korea. And every other terrorist group -- 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. So our concern is not just. About some far off land. Oceans away. That's not what this is about. Are concerned with the cause of the defenseless people of Syria. Is about choices. That will directly affect our role in the world and our interest in the world. It is also profoundly. About whom we are. We -- the United States of America. We're the country that has tried. Not always successfully. But always tried. To honor a set of universal values. Around which we have organized our lives. And our aspirations. 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. 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. -- nothing happens. America should feel confident. And gratified. We are not alone in our condemnation. And we are not alone in our will to do something about it and act. The world is speaking out and many friends stand ready to respond. The Arab League pledge quote to hold the Syrian regime fully responsible for this crime. The organization for Islamic cooperation. Condemned the regime and said we needed quote to hold the Syrian government legally and morally accountable for this heinous crime. Turkey said. There is no doubt that the regime is responsible. Our oldest -- the French. Said the regime quote. Committed this vile action. And it is an outrage to use weapons that the community has banned for the last ninety years in all international conventions. The Australian prime minister said he would want history to record. That we were quote. A party. To turning such a blind died. So now that we know what we know the question we must all be asking is what we do. Let me emphasize. President Obama we in the United States we believe in the United Nations. And we have great respect for the brave inspectors who into -- regime gunfire and obstructions. To their investigation. But as -- Ki moon the Secretary General has said again and again. The UN investigation. Will not affirm. Who used these chemical weapons. That is not the mandate of the UN investigation. They will only affirm whether such weapons were use. By that definition of their own mandate. The UN can't tell us anything. That we haven't shared review this afternoon. Or that we don't already know. And because of the guaranteed Russian obstructionism. -- any action through the UN Security Council. The UN cannot galvanized the world to act. As it should. So let me be clear. We will continue talking to the congress. Talking to our allies. And most importantly talking to the American people. President Obama -- will insurer. That the United States of America makes our own decisions. On our own time lines based on our values and our interests. We know that after a decade of conflict. The American people are tired of war. Believe me I am too. 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 died to a dictators -- use of weapons of mass destruction. Against all warnings. Against all common understanding of decency. These things we do know. We also know that we have a president. Who 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 civil war that is already well underway. The president has been clear. Any action that he might decide to take will be limited and tailored response. To ensure. That a -- for its 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 to have a diplomatic process. That can resolve this. Through negotiation. Because we know there is no ultimate military solution. It has to be political. It has to happen at the negotiating table and we are deeply committed to getting there. So that is what we know. That's what the leaders of congress now don't know and that's what the American people need to know. And that is at the core. Of the decisions that must now be made for the security of our country and for the promise of -- planet. We're the world's most heinous weapons. Must never again be used. Against the world's most vulnerable people thank --

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

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