WASHINGTON (AFP) – U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has made a flurry of calls to allies as momentum builds for a response to Syria’s alleged chemical attack, an official said Tuesday.
On Monday, Kerry said the reported chemical attack near Damascus last week — believed to have killed hundreds of civilians — was a “moral obscenity” and that those responsible would be held accountable.
He strongly suggested that the Syrian government was behind the chemical attack without making a direct accusation, and said the United States would release more information about the incident.
Over the last five days Kerry has spoken with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the foreign affairs ministers of allies Britain, France, Canada, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan.
Kerry has also been in contact with senior NATO, EU and Arab League officials, and he has spoken to his counterparts in Syria and Russia, which has been a close military patron of Damascus for decades.
A senior State Department official said the talks were part of “ongoing consultations about the appropriate response to the chemical weapons attack in Syria.”
President Barack Obama, meanwhile, spoke with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Tuesday after a similar call to Australian Premier Kevin Rudd the night before.
Obama and Harper “spoke today by phone to discuss their grave concern about the reported use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime against civilians near Damascus on Wednesday, August 21,” the White House said in a statement.
“The United States and Canada strongly oppose the use of chemical weapons, and the president and prime minister pledged to continue to consult closely on potential responses by the international community.”
Kerry and other top officials have strongly hinted at a military response to the massive chemical attack — which if confirmed would be the deadliest use of such weapons since Iraq’s Saddam Hussein gassed the Kurds in 1988.
The most likely scenario is believed to be a series of U.S. cruise missile strikes targeting Syrian military units accused of carrying out the attack.
Britain and France are expected to join Washington in any operation, with regional allies Turkey and Jordan providing additional support.
U.S. officials have reportedly been exploring ways of acting outside the UN Security Council, where Russia and China are certain to veto any military action against Damascus.
Syria has denied using chemical weapons and vowed to defend itself against any foreign attack.
US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has warned that US forces are ready to act if ordered to do so, and on Tuesday he spoke with his British and French counterparts, the Pentagon said.