U.S. Presses for Corroborating Facts on Chemical Weapons in Syria

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel briefs reporters in Abu Dhabi about intelligence assessments of Syria’s use of chemical weapons.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel briefs reporters in Abu Dhabi about intelligence assessments of Syria’s use of chemical weapons.

By Phillip Kurata
IIP Staff Writer
Washington,
April 26, 2013

The U.S. government says its intelligence assessments indicate “with varying degrees of confidence” that the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad has used chemical weapons against the Syrian people, according to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.

“The intelligence community has been assessing information for some time on this issue,” Hagel said, briefing reporters in Abu Dhabi April 25. He added that any use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime would “violate every convention of warfare.”

A White House official, who did not allow reporters to use his name, said the Obama administration is pressing for a comprehensive U.N. investigation to gather “credible and corroborated facts” regarding the accuracy of the intelligence assessments.

“Intelligence assessments are not alone sufficient,” the official said. “We are continuing to do further work to establish a definitive judgment as to whether or not the red line has been crossed and to inform our decisionmaking about what to do next.”

The intelligence assessments indicate that the Syrian regime has used sarin gas on a small scale, the official said.

“We are going to be methodical, rigorous and relentless in gathering the relevant information and putting it together so we can establish exactly what happened around those reports of chemical weapons use,” the official said. “Bashar al-Assad and his regime will be held accountable for these types of actions.”

In 2012, President Obama said if the Syrian regime uses chemical weapons or puts them in the hands of terrorist groups, then it will have crossed a “red line” with “enormous consequences.”

“All options are on the table” in terms of what the U.S. response would be, the official said.

He said the United States is prepared to consult and coordinate with friends and allies, such as Britain, France, Turkey, Jordan and the Gulf countries, in deciding the next steps in dealing with the regime in Damascus.

The United States has refrained from a military response to the Syrian civil war, which is estimated to have claimed the lives of 70,000 people since it began in March 2011. The United States considers the Syrian Opposition Coalition the legitimate government of Syria and has offered it $250 million in nonlethal assistance such as meals, medical equipment and body armor. The United States also is providing more than $400 million in humanitarian assistance to Syrians inside Syria and in neighboring countries who have been harmed by the Assad regime.