The Times West Virginian

Headline News

April 26, 2013

U.S. says Syria used chemical weapons

WASHINGTON — U.S. intelligence has concluded with “varying degrees of confidence” that the Syrian government has twice used chemical weapons in its fierce civil war, the White House and other top administration officials said Thursday.

However, officials also said more definitive proof was needed and the U.S. was not ready to escalate its involvement in Syria beyond non-lethal aid, despite President Barack Obama’s repeated public assertions that Syria’s use of chemical weapons, or the transfer of its stockpiles to a terrorist group, would cross a “red line.”

The White House disclosed the new intelligence Thursday in letters to two senators, and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, traveling in Abu Dhabi, also discussed it with reporters. The letters were sent in response to questions from members of Congress who are eager for the administration to arm the rebels or get involved militarily.

The Syrian civil war has dragged on for more than two years, with an estimated 70,000 dead. In addition to members of Congress, Leon Panetta and Hillary Rodham Clinton, as secretaries of defense and state, have urged Obama to increase U.S. involvement.

“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,” the White House said in its letters, which were signed by Obama’s legislative director, Miguel Rodriguez.

Shortly after the letters were made public, Secretary of State John Kerry said on Capitol Hill that there were two instances of chemical weapons use.

It was not immediately clear what quantity of weapons might have been used, or when or what casualties might have resulted. Hagel said many of those details were classified.

Sarin is an odorless nerve agent that can be used as a gas or a liquid, poisoning people when they breathe it, absorb it through their skin or eyes, or take it in through food or water. In large doses, sarin can cause convulsions, paralysis and death. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people usually recover from small doses, which may cause confusion, drooling, excessive sweating, nausea and vomiting.

The Aum Shinrikyo cult used sarin in attacks in the Tokyo subway system in 1995 that killed 12 people and sickened thousands.

Obama has said the use of chemical weapons would be a “game-changer” in the U.S. position on intervening in the Syrian civil war, and the letter to Congress reiterated that the use or transfer of such weapons in Syria was a “red line for the United States.” However, officials quickly made clear that a stepped up U.S. response was not imminent.

A senior defense official said the White House letter was not an “automatic trigger” for policy decisions on the use of military force. The official alluded to past instances of policy decisions that were based on what turned out to be flawed intelligence, such as the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq after concluding that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons.

Lawmakers from both parties sounded less than patient in this case.

Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, a member of the Democratic leadership, was asked what should be done about the crossing of what the administration has called a red line. He said, “That’s up to the commander in chief, but something has to be done.”

And Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said, “I think it’s pretty obvious that that red line has been crossed. Now I hope the administration will consider what we have been recommending now for over two years of this bloodletting and massacre and that is to provide a safe area for the opposition to operate, to establish a no-fly zone and provide weapons to people in the resistance who we trust.”

The White House said the current intelligence assessments are based in part on “physiological samples.” Officials wouldn’t say specifically what information they are lacking in order to conclusively determine that Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government used chemical weapons.

However, the White House letters emphasized a need for the completion of a stalled U.N. investigation.

But it’s unclear whether U.N. inspectors will ever be able to conduct a full investigation in areas where there is the most evidence of chemical weapons use. The Syrian government has so far refused to allow the U.N. experts to go anywhere but Khan al-Assal, where Assad’s government maintains the rebels used the deadly agents.

A senior administration official said the U.S. was consulting with allies and looking for other ways to confirm the intelligence assessments.

The officials commented only on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

Until Thursday, the U.S. had resisted joining a growing number of allied nations that claim to have evidence that Syrian leader Assad’s government has deployed chemical weapons.

Last month, British and French ambassadors to the United Nations told Secretary General Ban Ki-moon that the government used chemical weapons near Aleppo, in Homs and possibly in the capital of Damascus. Pressure mounted on the U.S. this week when two key allies in the Middle East — Israel and Qatar — also said there was evidence that Assad had used chemical weapons.

Following the U.S. disclosure, NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said, “There would doubtlessly be a very strong reaction from the international community if there were evidence that chemical weapons had been used.”

The White House, in its letters to Capitol Hill, said that “because the president takes this issue so seriously, we have an obligation to fully investigate any and all evidence of chemical weapons use within Syria.”

The letters were sent to McCain and to Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich.

The letters also said the U.S. believes the use of chemical weapons “originated with the Assad regime.” That is consistent with the Obama administration’s assertion that the Syrian rebels do not have access to the country’s stockpiles.

1
Text Only
Headline News
  • Screen Shot 2014-04-16 at 12.51.22 PM.png VIDEO: Toddler climbs into vending machine

    A child is safe after climbing into and getting stuck inside a claw crane machine at a Lincoln, Neb., bowling alley Monday.

    April 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • Solemn tributes mark Boston Marathon bombing anniversary

    Survivors, first responders and relatives of those killed in the Boston Marathon bombing marked the anniversary Tuesday with tributes that combined sorrow over the loss of innocent victims with pride over the city’s resilience in the face of a terror attack.

    April 16, 2014

  • Questions linger year after Boston Marathon bombs

    A surveillance video shows a man prosecutors say is Dzhokhar Tsarnaev placing a bomb near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, just yards from where an 8-year-old boy was killed when it exploded.

    April 15, 2014

  • Little sign of progress as Obama, Putin speak

    Speaking for the first time in more than two weeks, President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin showed little sign of agreement Monday, with the U.S. leader urging pro-Russian forces to de-escalate the situation in eastern Ukraine and Putin denying that Moscow was interfering in the region.

    April 15, 2014

  • 3 dead after suburban Kansas City shooting

    A man opened fire outside a Jewish community center on Sunday, killing two people before driving over to a retirement community a few blocks away and killing someone else, authorities said.

    April 14, 2014

  • Couple: Truck was on fire before deadly bus crash

    A couple said a FedEx tractor-trailer was already on fire when it careened across a median, sideswiped their car and slammed into a bus carrying high school students, adding a new twist to the investigation of a crash that killed 10 people.
    Initial reports by police indicated the truck swerved to avoid a sedan that was traveling in the same direction in this town about 100 miles north of Sacramento, then went across the median. There was no mention of the truck being on fire.

    April 13, 2014

  • ‘Obamacare’ under attack as conservatives eye 2016

    Republicans eyeing the 2016 White House race battered President Barack Obama’s health care law and nicked each other Saturday, auditioning before a high-profile gathering of conservatives that some political veterans said marked the campaign’s unofficial start.

    April 13, 2014

  • Finance officials: Global economy turns the corner

    The world’s top finance officials expressed confidence Saturday that the global economy finally has turned the corner to stronger growth. This time, they may be right.
    Despite challenges that include market jitters about the Federal Reserve’s bond-buying slowdown and global tensions over Ukraine, policymakers said they believe there is a foundation for sustained growth that can provide jobs for the millions of people still looking for work five years after the worst recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

    April 13, 2014

  • There’s a new ‘face,’ but old problems for health care law

    Abruptly on the spot as the new face of “Obamacare,” Sylvia Mathews Burwell faces steep challenges, both logistical and political.
    Burwell, until now White House budget director, was named by President Barack Obama on Friday to replace Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who oversaw the messy rollout of the health care overhaul.

    April 12, 2014

  • Australia leader confident sounds are from Flight 370

    With the Malaysian jetliner mystery now five weeks old, officials have narrowed the search zone for the missing plane and are “very confident” the underwater signals they have heard are from its black box, Australia’s prime minister said Friday.
    At the same time, however, those electronic signals are fading, Tony Abbott added.

    April 12, 2014

House Ads
Featured Ads