Syria has likely used chemical weapons, US confirms
WASHINGTON/ABU DHABI/LONDON Agence France-Presse
U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel speaks with reporters after reading a statement on chemical weapon use in Syria during a news conference in Abu Dhabi April 25. REUTERS PhotoThe White House said April 25 that Syria had likely used chemical weapons against rebel forces on a "small scale," but emphasized US spy agencies were still not 100 percent sure.
US intelligence services had been investigating reports that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces had used chemical arms - a move Washington has said would cross a "red line," triggering possible military action.
US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel first announced the assessment during a visit to Abu Dhabi, saying the "decision to reach this conclusion was made within the past 24 hours." "Our intelligence community does assess with varying degrees of confidence that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale in Syria, specifically the chemical agent sarin," National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said.
"Given the stakes involved, and what we have learned from our own recent experience, intelligence assessments alone are not sufficient," Hayden however cautioned.
The US intelligence assessment is based "in part on physiological samples," the spokeswoman said, but she added the chain of custody was "not clear, so we cannot confirm how the exposure occurred and under what conditions." "We do believe that any use of chemical weapons in Syria would very likely have originated with the Assad regime," a legislative aide to President Barack Obama, Miguel Rodriguez, wrote in a letter to US lawmakers.
So far, US intelligence indicates that "the Assad regime maintains custody of these weapons, and has demonstrated a willingness to escalate its horrific use of violence against the Syrian people," the letter said.
UK has evidence of chemical weapon use in Syria: Foreign Office
Following comments made by US officials, British Foreign Office said it had "limited but persuasive" evidence of the use of chemical weapons in Syria, including sarin gas,
"We have limited but persuasive information from various sources showing chemical weapon use in Syria, including sarin," a Foreign Office spokeswoman said.
"This is extremely concerning. Use of chemical weapons is a war crime," she added. "We have briefed our allies, partners and the UN on this information and we are working actively to get more and better information." Reports earlier this month said British military scientists had studied a soil sample brought back from an area close to Damascus and found it tested positive for chemical weapons, although the government has not confirmed that.
Britain said Syria must allow in international observers. "Assad must cooperate with the international community and prove that his regime has not committed this horrific crime, allowing unrestricted access for the UN and OPCW (Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) to investigate on the ground in Syria," the Foreign Office spokeswoman said.