In jab at Russia, US says no doubt on Syria culprits
The United States on Tuesday said it was "preposterous" to think anyone but Syrian forces were behind a chemical weapons attack, in an apparent new jab at Russia.
Russian President Vladimir Putin told Britain's David Cameron on Monday that there was no evidence yet that President Bashar al-Assad's forces were to blame for the outrage, British officials said.
And other Russian officials have also cast doubt on Washington's version of the strike which is alleged to have killed hundreds of civilians in a Damascus suburb last week.
Some Russian sources have even compared US claims to the discredited intelligence on weapons of mass destruction that led to the American invasion of Iraq in 2003.
The White House is readying a public intelligence assessment on the attack in Syria, which officials say will prove Assad's regime was to blame, as US forces gear up for a punitive military strike.
"Suggestions that there's any doubt about who's responsible for this are as preposterous as suggestions that the attack itself didn't occur," White House spokesman Jay Carney said.
The expected US military response to what officials here are calling a "heinous" attack by Assad's forces, is likely to send US-Russia relations to a new low, after months of policy clashes.
US officials have not publicly shamed Russia for its support of Syria, its top remaining Middle Eastern ally, but have clearly been aiming their rhetoric towards Moscow and Putin.
On Tuesday, Secretary of State John Kerry described "gut wrenching" scenes of Syrian civilians in their death throes in videos posted on social media sites after the attack.
"Anyone who can claim that an attack of this staggering scale could be contrived or fabricated needs to check their conscience and their own moral compass," Kerry said.
Washington also decided to put off a meeting with Russia in the Hague this week devoted to the Syria crisis.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said he regretted the decision to cancel talks that would have been "especially helpful right now, when military action is hanging over this country."
Obama was due to have talks in Moscow this month with Putin before he heads to the G20 summit in St Petersburg, but smarting over Russia's offer of asylum to Edward Snowden, the fugitive intelligence leaker, decided not to go.
The White House said Tuesday that the president does however still plan to show up at the G20.
A string of clashes with Putin over Snowden, Syria, human rights and security issues have reversed the "reset" of relations with Russia which Obama engineered with former president Dmitry Medvedev after he took office in 2009.
The recent plunge in relations has sparked headlines predicting a new Cold War and revived tensions between Washington and the Kremlin not seen since the Soviet era.
Russia warned earlier Tuesday that US military intervention in Syria could have "catastrophic consequences" for the region and called on the international community to show "prudence" over the crisis.
"Attempts to bypass the Security Council, once again to create artificial groundless excuses for a military intervention in the region are fraught with new suffering in Syria and catastrophic consequences for other countries of the Middle East and North Africa," a foreign ministry spokesman said.
US officials have yet to say whether they will go through the motions of seeking a UN Security Council mandate for strikes on Syria -- but they know a Russian veto is a formality.
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, known for a sharp tongue, said on Twitter on Tuesday that "the West behaves towards the Islamic world like a monkey with a grenade."
Russia has said it believes Syrian rebels were behind the chemical weapon strike in Syria on August 21 and has warned any military action without UN approval would violate international law.
On Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov condemned the "hysteria" over the claimed chemical attack and said the West had yet to come up with proof that Assad's regime was behind it.