Recognizing that the tragedy in Syria was uppermost in the minds of Americans, and of citizens throughout the world yesterday, in a previously scheduled meeting with the Balkan leaders -- including Estonian President Toomas Hendrick Ilves, and Latvian President Andris Bērziņš; and Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė –- President Barack Obama made a brief statement that included the following language:
"This kind of attack is a challenge to the world. We cannot accept a world where women and children and innocent civilians are gassed on a terrible scale.
This kind of attack threatens our national security interests by violating well-established international norms against the use of chemical weapons by further threatening friends and allies of ours in the region, like Israel and Turkey and Jordan. And it increases the risk that chemical weapons will be used in the future and fall into the hands of terrorists who might use them against us."
It is not clear from this explanation whether or not the President would argue that any action taken by the United States would would fall under one of two exemptions: either his taking executive action of some sort under the contingency of the U.S. acting in self-defense, with or without any 'coalition of the willing;' or the United States' acting with the sanction of the United Nations Security Council.
The President argues that the citizens of the world have a collective interest in maintaining the universal norm against the use of chemical weapons, simply because the safety of all nations subsists in the safety of each individual nation.
The President noted that he had not yet made any final decision about what actions might be taken or by whom in order to maintain this universal norm against the inhumane use of chemical weapons:
"Now, I have not made a final decision about various actions that might be taken to help enforce that norm. But as I’ve already said, I have had my military and our team look at a wide range of options. We have consulted with allies. We’ve consulted with Congress. We’ve been in conversations with all the interested parties.
Acknowledging that in the 21st century, it is through diplomatic solutions that a lasting peace and prosperity is achieved; and that any underlying conflicts can best be brokered through negotiation, rather than through military action, the President noted that all options will be under consideration that will “meet the narrow concern around chemical weapons."
In addition to his now having released unclassified documents relating to the tragic events that took place in Syria on August 21, 2013, the President explained that there also will be a classified briefing to members of Congress and Congressional staff; as well as to our nation’s international partners; and he reiterated that he will “continue to provide updates to the American people as we get more information.”
On 21 August, in the article "Syria gas ‘kills hundreds,’ Security Council meets,” Dominic Evans and Khaled Yacoub Oweis, reporting for Reuters from Beirut, Lebanon and from Amman, Jordan, write:
One man who said he had retrieved victims in the suburb of Erbin told Reuters: "We would go into a house and everything was in its place. Every person was in their place. They were lying where they had been. They looked like they were asleep."
The physicians who were interviewed described symptoms which they believed pointed to the use of sarin gas.
The rebel Syrian National Coalition said 650 people died. Activists said rockets with chemical agents hit the Damascus suburbs of Ain Tarma, Zamalka and Jobar during a fierce pre-dawn bombardment by government forces. The Damascus Media Office said 150 bodies were counted in Hammouriya, 100 in Kfar Batna, 67 in Saqba, 61 in Douma, 76 in Mouadamiya and 40 in Erbin. A nurse at Douma Emergency Collection facility, Bayan Baker, said: "Many of the casualties are women and children. They arrived with their pupils constricted, cold limbs and foam in their mouths. The doctors say these are typical symptoms of nerve gas victims."
A report from the international weapons experts from the United Nations is due very shortly, with results from their investigation.