US adds weight to claims Assad’s forces used sarin

Washington: The White House says it believes ”with varying degrees of confidence” Syria has used chemical weapons against rebel forces on a ”small scale”, but emphasised US spy agencies are still not 100 per cent sure of the assessment.
Nanjing Night Net

US intelligence services had been investigating reports that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces had used chemical arms – a dangerous move Washington has said would cross a ”red line”, triggering possible military action.

”Our intelligence community does assess with varying degrees of confidence that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale in Syria,” United States National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said.

The assessment, which she said was based in part on ”physiological samples”, points to the possible use of sarin, a man-made nerve agent used in two attacks in Japan in the 1990s. It can cause convulsions, respiratory failure and death.

But Ms Hayden warned that the chain of custody of the weapons was ”not clear, so we cannot confirm how the exposure occurred and under what conditions”.

”Given the stakes involved, and what we have learnt from our own recent experience, intelligence assessments alone are not sufficient,” she said.

”Varying degrees of confidence” may indicate that US intelligence agencies have conflicting views on the reliability of the evidence.

The current assessment was ”not sufficient” to take action, Miguel Rodriguez, Mr Obama’s legislative liaison to Congress, wrote in a letter to Congress on Thursday.

The Obama administration is under growing pressure from some US politicians, Israel, France, Britain, the Syrian opposition and Persian Gulf nations seeking the Syrian President’s removal to start providing weapons to the rebels.

Some are also urging the creation of a no-fly zone over the country or sending in troops to seize Mr Assad’s chemical and biological weapons before they fall into terrorists’ hands.

”The Syrians crossed the line the President had said would be a game changer,” Republican senator John McCain said.

In remarks made on Thursday night at the Brookings Institution, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber al-Thani, the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Qatar, said that there was now clear evidence that chemical weapons had been used in Syria and called on the US to take action.

US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel, speaking in Abu Dhabi, said the decision to release the intelligence report had been ”made within the past 24 hours” and warned that use of such weapons ”violates every convention of warfare”.

In London, the BBC reported British Prime Minister David Cameron as saying that growing evidence of the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime i “extremely serious”. Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office said it had ”limited but persuasive” evidence of the use of chemical agents in Syria’s grinding civil war, which the United Nations says has left more than 70,000 people dead since it began in March 2011.

Earlier this week, an Israeli general in military intelligence alleged Syria had used chemical agents more than once during the protracted civil war, after Britain and France had voiced similar concerns to the UN.

Last month, during his visit to Israel, Mr Obama said the use of such weapons would be a ”grave and tragic” mistake on Mr Assad’s behalf and that it would be a ”game changer”.

Asked if the intelligence assessment meant that Syria had passed the declared ”red line”, Mr Hagel said that was a policy question and that his task was to provide the US President with ”options”.

Mr McCain said the key now was to ensure chemical weapons did not fall into the wrong hands.

”Some of them are in heavily contested areas and could easily fall into the hands of jihadist extremists,” he told CNN.

AFP, Bloomberg

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