Earnest said Obama believes there is a compressed time frame in which a decision needed to be made about whether and when to attack.
The Obama administration remains adamant that the Syrian government is responsible for the apparent Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack. Officials briefed key lawmakers Thursday night on details of an intelligence report about the attack that is said to lay the blame on Syrian officials; the administration is developing an unclassified version for release to the public.
It will be released by the end of the week, but Earnest said that not all the details will be released because they are classified.
He disputed reports that showed the United States intelligence was far from certain about the Syrian governments involvement. He said the administration was relying on previous intelligence assessments and reporting from independent journalists and non-governmental organizations in Syria.
He also said the administration does not see the need to wait for the U.N. inspectors report.
Theres a lot of publicly available information that we already know that is very convincing, Earnest said
The White House on Thursday faced objections from politicians at home as well, where Congress appears to be divided over Syria. Some lawmakers want to reserve judgment; others want Congress to play a stronger role in decisions.
After a briefing Thursday night from the White House, Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement that Syrian regimes use of chemical weapons requires a decisive response. . . . Tonights briefing reaffirmed for me that a decisive and consequential U.S. response is justified and warranted to protect Syrians, as well as to send a global message that chemical weapons attacks in violation of international law will not stand.
But other lawmakers remained unconvinced. Obama called House Speaker John Boehner on Thursday to brief him on Syria. The Republican leader repeated a request he made in a letter to Obama on Wednesday for an explanation of the legal justification for a military strike, as well as the objectives and strategy for any potential action, said his spokesman, Brendan Buck.
Only the president can answer these questions, and it is clear that further dialogue and consultation with Congress, as well as communication with the American public, will be needed, Buck said.
Any action Obama takes against Syria is likely to be relatively modest, and he may not need much international support anyway, said Michael OHanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a think tank that reflects both liberal and centrist policies.
I think it will be tailored to be very low risk, he said. I think it will be more about sending a message.
Matthew Schofield in Berlin and David Lightman, William Douglas and James Rosen in Washington contributed to this report.