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Kerry cites 'high confidence' in intelligence on Syrian weapons

Secretary of State John Kerry on Friday laid out the Obama administration's case for a military strike on Syria as the White House made public its evidence that Bashar Assad's forces used chemical weapons. [WATCH VIDEO]

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“The American intelligence community has high confidence – high confidence,” Kerry said. “This is common sense. This is evidence. These are facts.

“So the primary questions is really no longer what do we know? The question is what are we – we collectively in the world – going to do about it?”

Kerry said the international community has a moral responsibility to act, given the evidence. And he said national security interests of the United States and its allies in the region were in play.

“It matters deeply to the credibility and the future interests of America and our allies,” Kerry said. “It matters because a lot of other countries whose policies challenge these international norms are watching.”

The unclassified document released by the White House on Friday says that the government “assesses with high confidence” that the Syrian government carried out last week's attack in the Damascus suburbs that killed more than 1,400 people. [Read White House assessment below]

The document says the intelligence is based on “human, signals, and geospatial intelligence,” as well as open source material, including 100 videos attributed to the attack and “thousands” of social media reports.

The administration also released a map of the Damascus area showing the neighborhoods where the chemical attacks allegedly occurred. [White House Map: Damascus Areas of Influence and Areas Reportedly Affected by 21 August Chemical Attack]

The administration said it also has additional classified intelligence it is not releasing publicly.

The released assessment says that U.S. intelligence “intercepted communications involving a senior official intimately familiar with the offensive who confirmed that chemical weapons were used by the regime on August 21 and was concerned with the U.N. inspectors obtaining evidence.

“On the afternoon of August 21, we have intelligence that Syrian chemical weapons personnel were directed to cease operations,” the report says.

The assessment also says that intelligence shows Assad regime forces were preparing chemical weapons in the three days before the attack.

Kerry said the administration continues its consultations with Congress and the international community. He played down the lack of international support for a military strike, arguing that “many friends stand ready to respond,” including “our oldest allies, the French.”

The reality is less rosy.

While French President Francois Hollande has said his country is “ready” to act, NATO members Great Britain, Italy and Canada have all weighed in against action.

“I see no NATO role in an international reaction to the (Syrian) regime,” NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Friday.

And while the Arab League has condemned Assad, it has fallen short of endorsing a military strike.

Kerry's 20-minute statement was largely geared at assuring Americans that the administration has learned the lessons of the intelligence fiascos that led to the Iraq war.

“Our intelligence community has carefully reviewed, and re-reviewed, information regarding this attack. And I will tell you it has done so more than mindful of the Iraq experience,” Kerry said. “We will not repeat that moment.”

He said the administration has taken “unprecedented” steps to declassify and make public its intelligence in order to gain the public's trust.

He also repeated Obama's assurances that any response won't drag the U.S. into another Middle Eastern conflict.

The president “has said very clearly that whatever decision he makes in Syria, it will bear no resemblance to Afghanistan, Iraq or even Libya,” Kerry said. “It will not involve any boots on the ground. It will not be open-ended. And it will not assume responsibility for a civil war that is already well underway.”

While popular with the American public, that promise of a “limited and tailored response” has worried many proponents of U.S. action.

“Sec Kerry makes compelling case,” tweeted Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a leading hawk on Syria. “Question is, will response be cosmetic or change the momentum in Syria?

--This report was updated at 1:59 p.m.

Government Assessment of the Syrian Government’s Use of Chemical Weapons on August 21, 2013