WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama on Wednesday declared unequivocally that the United States has "concluded" that the Syrian government carried out a deadly chemical weapons attack on civilians. Yet U.S. intelligence officials say questions remain about whether the attack could be linked to Syrian President Bashar Assad or high officials in his government.
Obama did not present any direct evidence to back up his assertion that the Syrian government bears responsibility for the attack. U.S. officials were searching for additional intelligence to bolster the case for a strike against Assad's military infrastructure and rule out the possibility that a rogue element of the Syrian military could have used the weapons on its own authority.
While Obama said he is still evaluating possible military retaliation, he vowed that any American response would send a "strong signal" to Assad.
"We have concluded that the Syrian government in fact carried these out," Obama said during an interview with "NewsHour" on PBS. "And if that's so, then there need to be international consequences."
New hurdles emerged that appeared to slow the formation of an international coalition that could use military force to punish Syria. Earlier Wednesday, the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council failed to reach an agreement on a draft resolution from the British seeking authorization for the use of force. Russia, as expected, objected to international intervention.
Obama administration officials said they would take action against the Syrian government even without the backing of allies or the United Nations because diplomatic paralysis must not prevent a response to the alleged chemical weapons attack outside the Syrian capital last week.