Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney
MR. CARNEY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for being here, as ever. I have no announcements to make at the top of this briefing, so I will go straight to Julie Pace.
Q Thank you. Has the President made any decision in the last 24 hours or so on what the U.S. response to the Syrian chemical weapons attack would be?
MR. CARNEY: The President continues to work with his national security team reviewing the options available to him. And when he has made a decision and has an announcement to make he’ll make it. So that process continues.
Q So he has not made a decision at this point?
MR. CARNEY: Correct.
Q And there’s a lot of speculation that this intelligence report that presumably would link Assad directly to the chemical weapons attack might be released today. Can you give us an update on the timing?
MR. CARNEY: What I would say is that yesterday I made clear that the intelligence community is working on an assessment and that once we had that assessment we would provide information to the public about it in the coming days. And that remains true. I think that that’s speculation that it would come today rather than some other day. But it will come and I think you can expect it this week.
Let me also say, and I think that both Secretary Kerry and I attempted to make clear yesterday that there is no doubt here that chemical weapons were used on a massive scale on August 21st outside of Damascus. There is also very little doubt, and should be no doubt for anyone who approaches this logically, that the Syrian regime is responsible for the use of chemical weapons on August 21st outside of Damascus.
We have established with a high degree of confidence that the Syria regime has used chemical weapons already in this conflict. We have made clear that it is our firm assessment that the Syrian regime has maintained control of the stockpile of chemical weapons in Syria throughout this conflict. It is also the case that the Syrian regime has the rocket capacity to deliver the chemical weapons as they were delivered with repugnant results on August 21st outside of Damascus.
So the deliberations that are taking place now and the options that are being considered by the President and his national security team are not around the question of whether or not chemical weapons were used in Syria on a significant scale, causing mass death and injury to innocent civilians — to women and children. It is not around the question of whether or not the Syrian regime is responsible. It’s around the question of what is the appropriate response to this clear violation of international norms.
Q But it’s your expectation the intel report — that it will provide some type of evidence that clearly shows, beyond sort of taking all of these pieces that we know and inferring that this must be the Assad regime — will this be tangible evidence –
MR. CARNEY: There will be more information provided with what we can give to you in an unclassified manner to the public from the intelligence community. But this is not just an inference. This is not just the U.S. government asserting it. I think you saw the statement from the Arab League. I think you’ve seen multiple eyewitness accounts, video accounts. You’ve seen statements from independent organizations working in Syria, like Doctors Without Borders. Some of your colleagues who are risking their lives to cover this story in Syria have provided substantial confirmation of what occurred on August 21st.
So what the President is engaged in is a process of deciding, as he consults with international allies and as his administration consults with Congress, about what the appropriate response to this flagrant violation of international norms should be. And there must be a response.
Q And then finally, British Prime Minister David Cameron is recalling Parliament this week. There’s going to be a motion put forward on Thursday, a vote on authorizing the British response. Is it fair to say that President Obama is not going to recall Congress to seek some type of similar measure before proceeding?
MR. CARNEY: Well, first of all, I don’t want to engage in speculation about a course of action that has not been decided upon. When the President has an announcement to make, he’ll make it. As this process is undertaken, we are consulting directly with House and Senate leaders in Congress. We are consulting directly with the leadership of the relevant committees as well as with other members of Congress who have a keen interest in this matter. I think you’ve seen that documented by some members who have spoken to it. And that process will continue. We think it’s very important that the consultation process take place in a matter like this of such gravity.
We are also, as we’ve made clear, engaging with our international partners. There’s a substantial list of communications that the Secretary of State has had. The President himself, as we’ve read out to you, has had consultations with Canadian Prime Minister Harper today, and in recent days with British Prime Minister Cameron, French President Hollande, and Australian Prime Minister Rudd. And I would anticipate that the President will continue to make calls to his counterparts throughout the week.
When it comes to processes — I think which goes to your question — I’m not going to — it presupposes a course of action that hasn’t been decided upon.
Q But that fact that Cameron is in a position to recall his Parliament, says he’s going to put forward a motion on Thursday, seems to suggest that there is something that’s been decided.
MR. CARNEY: Well, let me just make a broad statement. Obviously, this is a different country with a different form of government. There is –
Q I’m just talking about whether something has been decided. I mean, the fact that he’s in a position to take this step on Thursday seems to indicate something has been decided.
MR. CARNEY: Well, no, nothing has been decided, as I said in response to your first question. We are in direct contact with Prime Minister Cameron and his government, and the President himself has spoken with the Prime Minister, as he has with other foreign leaders, and those consultations will continue. And we share the views of the British government about the appalling nature of the transgression that occurred in Syria, and are consulting with the British and other allies and partners about the appropriate response.
Q Jay, you were very firm in saying just now that there’s little doubt that the Syrian regime was, in fact, responsible for this chemical attack. So in that context, what is the purpose of this intelligence report? Is it to legitimize — to get rid of any remaining doubt and, therefore, legitimize a response in the eyes of the international community?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not aware of any doubt that exists. I think that maybe if you take Bashar al-Assad seriously on these matters you might have some doubt. But there’s no evidence to suggest that he has any credibility when it comes to his statements about the use of chemical weapons in Syria. The actions taken by his regime in response to in the immediate aftermath of this heinous attack demonstrate his lack of credibility. And we believe that a careful review of the facts leads to the conclusion that the regime was behind this.
Again, it’s undeniable that chemical weapons were used on a large scale. We know that the regime maintains custody of the chemical weapons in Syria and uses the types of rockets that were used to deliver chemical weapons on August 21. The opposition does not. We also know that the opposition does not have the capabilities that the Syrian regime has. And, as I mentioned earlier, we have already had an assessment by the intelligence community with a high degree of confidence that the Syrian regime has used on a smaller scale chemical weapons in this conflict already. So suggestions that there’s any doubt about who is responsible for this are as preposterous as suggestions that the attack itself didn’t occur.
Q Secretary Hagel said, I guess it was yesterday, that any actions taken would be in concert with the international community and within the framework of legal justification. Is any legal justification lacking prior to any action by the United States on this? And does the international community need any further convincing?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’m not going to make legal justifications for actions that haven’t been decided upon. When the President makes a decision about what the appropriate response for the United States is, we will and he will provide ample context for the decision that he makes. But prior to that, I’m not going to speculate about what that context will be because an announcement has not been made and a decision is pending, as the President and his team review the options available to them.