U.S. President Barack Obama says he has not made a final decision on a response to the alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria, but he says he is considering a "limited, narrow act."
Hours after Mr. Obama made the comments, a team of U.N. inspectors sent to investigate last week's attacks in Syria left the country Saturday. A U.N. spokesperson says the team will try to expedite an analysis of the samples it collected from the sites of the attacks.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Friday the U.S. intelligence community had "high confidence" in a report indicating the Syrian government carried out a poison gas attack last week.
Kerry said the evidence, presented in a declassified version of a report, shows more than 1,400 Syrians were killed in the attack near Damascus, including at least 426 children.
He said the findings show a Syrian chemical weapons team was in the area of the attacks three days before it occurred. He also said rockets were only fired from regime-controlled areas and only went to opposition controlled or contested neighborhoods.
Kerry said the intelligence report includes intercepted communications in which a senior Syrian official confirms the poison gas attack.
Kerry did not indicate when President Obama would make a decision.
In a possible sign Washington may be preparing to act, a State Department official said Kerry called the foreign ministers of several countries Friday, including those in Britain, Egypt, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, as well as the secretary-general of the Arab League.
Kerry said history would judge the U.S. "extraordinarily harshly" if it "turned a blind eye to a dictator's wanton use of weapons of mass destruction."
He called Syrian President Bashar al-Assad a "thug" and a "murderer," and said his regime was guilty of a crime against humanity.
U.S. defense officials said Friday a sixth U.S. warship has joined others now operating in the eastern Mediterranean.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Friday the United States will continue to seek an international coalition in response to the Syrian regime's alleged use of chemical weapons, despite opposition by British lawmakers to any military action.
He made his comments after Britain's lower house of parliament rejected a motion for British participation in a military strike.
The non-binding vote is a setback for British Prime Minister David Cameron, who told lawmakers a military strike would be a response to a war crime, not an attempt to topple the Syrian government.
Mr. Cameron said it is important for Britain to uphold the "international taboo on the use of chemical weapons."
French President Francois Hollande on Friday said the British vote will not affect his country's position on Syria. In an interview with Le Monde newspaper, he said the "chemical massacre" in Damascus could not go unpunished.
Germany also appears to be backing away from any military intervention in Syria. Government officials say a military commitment has not been requested and is not being considered.
Syria denies carrying out a chemical attack and accuses the rebels of using such weapons on Syrian soldiers. The country's Foreign Ministry repeated Friday its accusation that Washington is using "fabrications and lies" as a pretext to attack Syria.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon discussed developments in Syria with the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council on Friday.
Earlier this week, diplomats from Russia and China indicated unwillingness to support a British-draft resolution on possible military action against Syria.
A spokesman for U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said the White House will brief Republican Senators on the Syrian situation in a conference call Saturday, at the request of McConnell.