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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

US to Determine Extent of Chemical Weapons Use by Syria

by Dan Robinson April 26, 2013

The White House on Friday said the United States will work with international partners, and with Syria's opposition, to determine the extent of chemical weapons use in Syria.

A major question dominating Friday's White House briefing was what President Obama is prepared to do now that the U.S. has joined Israel, Britain, and France in publicly assessing that chemical weapons have been used.

In letters to Congress, the White House said U.S. intelligence agencies believe "with varying degrees of confidence" that such weapons were used. U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel referred to "small-scale" uses, specifically of the nerve agent Sarin.

​​White House Press Secretary Jay Carney reiterated what an official told reporters the previous day about the need to continue building a "credible set of facts" for decisions Obama and partner nations will make.

Carney called this the correct and responsible thing to do, and denied that continuing to investigate means the U.S. is showing some sort of leniency in the face of evidence in hand so far.

"The fact is that we do have some evidence, and we need to build on that," he said. "We do have varying degrees of confidence in the assessments that are being made that chemical weapons were used in a limited way, but we need to build on that."

Carney said the Syrian opposition is a key component of efforts to gather more information and establish facts about the chain of custody regarding use of any chemical agents.

The president's spokesman had this response when asked if Obama is keeping all options on the table, including military force: He said, "I am not going to speculate about what action we might take should we firmly establish that the 'red line' has been crossed, but it is absolutely the case that all options remain on the table."

On Capitol Hill, Democratic Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger spoke to reporters after leaving a classified briefing on the Syrian situation by Secretary of State John Kerry. He said, "We feel that there [have] been some chemical weapons that have been used, but we are still investigating who did it, where it is coming from - and right now we are just in evaluation stage."

President Obama has said use of chemical weapons in Syria would be a "game changer" for the United States. He said in Jordan in March it could also lead to the situation spinning out of control, with spillover effects across the region.

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