WASHINGTON -- U.S. officials on Sunday called Syria’s decision to allow a U.N. team to investigate the site of a purported chemical attack “too late to be credible,” signaling that the Obama administration was leaning toward a military intervention in the two-year-old civil war.
Great Britain, meanwhile, issued a statement that left no doubt that it believed the Syrian government was responsible for the alleged chemical attack Aug. 21 that left more than 300 people dead.
“We are clear in the British Government that it was the Assad regime that carried out this…large- scale chemical attack, last Wednesday that has led to the…agonizing deaths of so many hundreds of people, including, tragically, so many children,” British Foreign Secretary William Hague said in a statement. “The eyewitness accounts, the fact this area was under bombardment by the regime forces at the time that the chemical attack took place. It all points in that direction to the responsibility of the regime.”
But any strike against Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime would occur over the misgivings of a majority of Americans, according to a new poll, and with only limited support from Congress. The fallout from such action includes likely retaliation from Iran, Russia and the Lebanese militant group, Hezbollah – Assad’s three chief foreign patrons – and could draw the United States deeply into a new Middle East conflict after years of entanglement in Iraq and Afghanistan.
However, many foreign policy analysts argue that after more than two years and a death toll exceeding 100,000, President Barack Obama has a moral imperative to step in now because of the escalation from the regime’s apparent use of chemical weapons in defiance of his warning that such warfare was a “red line.”
Statements from the administration over the weekend suggests that Obama’s extreme reluctance to wade into the bloody crisis was easing, though there were no details yet on a course of action as U.S. officials continued consultations with European and Arab allies.
Obama appeared to be shoring up international support for action, speaking with his second ally in as many days, French President Francois Hollande. The White House said the two discussed "possible responses by the international community" and agreed to stay in touch.
At a news conference Sunday in Malaysia, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel reiterated that he’d prepared "options for all contingencies" at Obama’s request.
"We are prepared to exercise whatever option if he decides to employ one of those options," Hagel said.
Pressed on whether there will be a U.S. military response at some point, Hagel responded: "When we have more information, then that answer will become clear."
U.S. officials repeatedly have said that Syria should allow U.N. inspectors into Ghouta, the eastern suburb of Damascus where hundreds were killed last week in a suspected chemical attack, if it didn’t have anything to hide.
The Syrian government, via the state news agency SANA, said that it would allow the foreign inspectors into Ghouta after reaching an agreement with the U.N. that takes effect “immediately.” The report said that Syria was ready “to cooperate with the U.N. investigators to expose the false allegations of the terrorist groups accusing the Syrian forces of using chemical weapons.”