Saying "there is no doubt who is responsible for this heinous use of chemical weapons attack in Syria: the Syrian regime," Vice President Joe Biden signaled Tuesday that the United States -- with its allies -- was ready to act.
"Those who use chemical weapons against defenseless men, women and children should and must be held accountable," Biden said in a speech to the American Legion.
The vice president's remarks echo those made by other U.S. officials in recent days, as well as many of the nation's foremost allies.
French President Francois Hollande said his administration was "ready to punish those who made the decision to gas these innocent people," adding that "everything leads us to believe" that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces are responsible.
British Prime Minister David Cameron -- who talked Tuesday with U.S. President Barack Obama -- called lawmakers back from their summer vacations to consider a response to Syria, as the UK military prepares contingency plans.
And U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told the BBC on Tuesday that U.S. forces are "ready to go" if ordered to strike Syria by President Barack Obama.
"The options are there. The United States Department of Defense is ready to carry out those options," Hagel said.
Western leaders were reacting to a growing consensus that the Syrian regime was responsible for an August 21 attack that killed more than 1,300 people, most of them dying from exposure to toxic gases, according to rebel officials. The opposition -- which has said it's been targeted by chemical weapons attacks in the past as well -- backed up its latest allegations with gruesome video of rows of dead bodies, including women and children, with no visible wounds.
Syrian officials, though, have steadfastly denied using chemical weapons in this or other cases.
Foreign Minister Walid Moallem said Tuesday that his government would never use such munitions against its own people, daring those who disagree to present evidence publicly.
He said rebel forces were to blame for security concerns near the suspected chemical sites, arguing that Western leaders are using the claims as an excuse to go after al-Assad's regime.
"We all hear the drums of war," Moallem said. "They want to attack Syria. I believe to use chemical weapons as a pretext is not a right."
And if foreign powers do strike the Middle Eastern nation, its foreign minister said the government and its forces will fight back.
"Syria is not easy to swallow," said Moallem. "We have the materials to defend ourselves. We will surprise others."
U.N. inspectors in Syria, but what will they find?
The United Nations has sent inspectors to Syria to try to get to the bottom of the wildly conflicting accounts of chemical warfare.
The opposition says chemical payloads were among the ordnance fired into the rebel stronghold of Ghouta. The government, via state TV reports, claims that its forces came into contact with toxic gas Saturday in Jobar, on the edge of Damascus -- blaming this on "terrorists," the term it commonly uses for rebel fighters.
CNN could not independently confirm either account, including videos purported to show the aftermath of each.
On Monday, U.N. inspectors visited the town of Moadamiyet al-Sham, despite a close call with snipers that left one of their vehicles damaged and an explosion nearby.
The inspectors had been expected Tuesday to head to Ghouta, but that trip was pushed back a day "in order to improve preparedness and safety for the team."
Moallem blamed rebel forces for failing to guarantee the U.N. group's safety and denying that its forces have delayed inspections by continually shelling Ghouta.
Video posted Tuesday to YouTube purported to show the area being shelled, though CNN could not verify this video's authenticity.
Yet Biden reiterated the claim that Syrian forces were shelling the suspected chemical attack site. And U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said it may be too late for a valid inspection of what happened -- saying "too much time has passed" and accusing al-Assad's government of using the U.N. investigation "as a stalling tactic or a charade to hide behind."
The United States, meanwhile, is conducting its own investigation: An intelligence report detailing evidence of the alleged attack could be released as early as Tuesday, a U.S. official told CNN. The report will include forensic evidence and intercepted communications among Syrian military commanders, according to the official.
The vice president said that beyond whatever inspectors do or do not find, common sense and the recent past point to one culprit.