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US: Syria chemical weapons case not airtight

White House says US spy agencies’ assessment that Syria used sarin gas was made with “varying degrees of confidence”.

The White House said it was continuing to study assessments by US spy agencies that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons and would not set a timetable for corroborating reports.

“I’m not going to set a timeline, because the facts need to be what drives this investigation, not a deadline,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters at a briefing on Friday.

“We are continuing to work to build on the assessments made by the intelligence community, that the degrees of confidence here are varying, that this is not an airtight case,” he said.

President Barack Obama said the deployment of chemical weapons by the Syrian government was a “game changer”, while also noting that intelligence assessments proving that such weapons had been used were still preliminary.

“Horrific as it is when mortars are being fired on civilians and people are being indiscriminately killed, to use potential weapons of mass destruction on civilian populations crosses another line with respect to international norms and international law,” Obama told reporters at the White House.

“That is going to be a game changer. We have to act prudently. We have to make these assessments deliberately. But I think all of us … recognize how we cannot stand by and permit the systematic use of weapons like chemical weapons on civilian populations,” he said.

Two Syrian officials denied the US accusations on Friday, with a senior official saying Damascus did not, and would not, use chemical weapons even if it had them.

Syrian official Sharif Shehadeh called the US claims “lies” and likened them to false accusations that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction ahead of the US-led invasion of that country.

‘All options available’

In response to a question, Carney said that President Barack Obama would consider a range of options including, but not exclusive to, military force, should it be determined that Syria has used chemical weapons.

Al Jazeera talks to Ralf Trapp, chemical and biological weapons expert, on the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria

“He retains all options to respond to that, all options,” Carney said.

“Often the discussion, when people mention all options are on the table, everyone just talks about military force.

“It’s important to remember that there are options available to a commander in chief in a situation like this that include but are not exclusive to that option.”

Earlier on Friday, British Prime Minister David Cameron said there was limited but growing evidence that Syria had committed a war crime by using chemical weapons.

In a cautious assessment mirroring that of Obama’s administration, Cameron said the use of chemical weapons was a red line that should trigger greater pressure on President Bashar al-Assad.

“It is limited evidence but there is growing evidence that we have seen too of the use of chemical weapons, probably by the regime,” Cameron told the BBC.

“It is extremely serious: this is a war crime … We need to go on gathering this evidence and also to send a very clear warning to the Syrian regime about these appalling actions,” he said.

‘Varying degrees of confidence’

On Thursday, US spy agencies said they were investigating reports from Syrian opposition groups that Assad’s forces have used sarin gas on at least two occasions during the two-year-old conflict.

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

Hayden  said that the US assessment was based in part on “physiological samples” and pointed 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.

However, she said the chain of custody of the weapons was “not clear, so we cannot confirm how the exposure occurred and under what conditions”.

Obama has declared that the deployment of chemical weapons would be a game-changer and has threatened unspecified consequences if it happened.

Even so, the Obama administration would likely move carefully, mindful of the lessons of the start of the Iraq war more than a decade ago.

Last month, both the Syrian government and rebels accused each other of using chemical weapons in an attack on the village of Khan al-Assal outside the northern city of Aleppo.

Following the Khan al-Assal attack, the government called for the United Nations to investigate alleged chemical weapons use by rebels.

Syria, however, has still not allowed a team of experts into the country because it wants the investigation limited to the single Khan al-Assal incident while UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is urging the Syrian government to accept an expanded UN probe into alleged chemical weapons use.

Al Jazeera

9 Comments on "US: Syria chemical weapons case not airtight"

  1. J-Gav on Fri, 26th Apr 2013 8:37 pm 

    No S!@@è#t Shirley! We’ve kind of grown accustomed to this, haven’t we?

  2. Plantagenet on Fri, 26th Apr 2013 8:49 pm 

    Obama threatened to intervene if Syria crossed a “red line” by using WMDs. “I’m not bluffing” said Obama.

    Yes he was.

  3. DC on Fri, 26th Apr 2013 11:33 pm 

    US: Syria chemical weapons case not airtight

    As in:Story is an utter and complete fabrication by the US war dept.

    But hey, got to play coy, got to make it look as if the Us of War is practicing ‘due diligence’. Let a little time go by, plant more fake stories and some vaguely plausible ‘evidence’.

    Then announce the attack….

  4. BillT on Sat, 27th Apr 2013 1:30 am 

    More propaganda from the CIA sales arm of the MIC. If they used it, they bought it from the US. Or maybe it was part of a Care Package? The Empire is finally coming up against real militaries and their partner NATO fools are going bankrupt one by one. The possibility of starting another world war/depression is making O hesitate.

  5. Arthur on Sat, 27th Apr 2013 4:35 am 

    We have seen pictures of hundreds of gassed Kurds under Saddam, now those were rather convincing. The present reports from Syria are not convincing… ‘Traces’ you say? Now the US government is the real suspect, that they want to fool the world again.with their WMD stories. The civil war was instigated by the US in the first place, via their SA and Qatar proxies. And now they want to make sure they are on the side of the winners… so they can add Syria to their list of satellites, or so they hope. Not going to happen as Syria does not have enough oil. Besides, muslims hate America and they cleverly use the US for their own political purposes, which is now to finally have the Shiit and Sunni worlds cleansed and segregated, making way to two new muslim empires: an oil rich Shiit empire centered around Teheran and Bagdad and a larger neo-Ottoman empire under Turkish leadership, encompassing Cairo, Damascus, Amman, Maghreb. Both will be hostile to the West and this development has the potential that political developments will supercede geological constraints. Think the oil boycot of the seventees.

  6. GregT on Sat, 27th Apr 2013 7:34 am 


    It surprises me that you are so aware of what is going on politically in the world, yet you won’t listen to the world’s scientific community? I find that very strange.

    Anyone that has been paying any attention at all, should be able to see what these ‘f—ers’ are doing. They have not only used biological, and chemical weapons themselves, they have used them on their own troops. I’m not going to use the J word, but, anyone that has taken the time to figure this shit out knows what I am talking about. The oil is running out, and in the end, it isn’t going to be flowing to the US anymore. The middle east will turn into a powder keg very soon, and the oil will flow to the east.

  7. Arthur on Sat, 27th Apr 2013 5:42 pm 

    Are you refering to climate change, waldsterben, etc.?

    It is true, I do not spend time on these issues and as a consequence am agnostic about it. The subject has my sympathy and I support measures to combat out of control global warming and polution, but that’s it.

    And as much as Bill accuses me of being a techie, in reality I am FAR more interested in geopolitical aspects of the energy drama than in designs of say the next power plants.

  8. baptised on Sat, 27th Apr 2013 10:06 pm 

    What I get from this article is the fear that the U.S. has of a less powerful country getting a little more strength with chemical weapons. The U.S. napalms villages, drops cluster bombs on whole countries, their is not a red line “moral high ground”. Our military knows that chemical weapons will level the war field a little. Furthermore the Iraq war was mainly about oil, but place chemical weapons everywhere you seen WMD(nukes)and you have a second minor reason. U.S. can watch and intervine with nukes, but chemical weapons no. It is all about keeping the power.

  9. Arthur on Sun, 28th Apr 2013 10:45 am 

    The US rulers have zero fear for Syria, they are merely busy playing the ‘global hegemon’ and will continue to do so until the US candle will have been burned up, either after the diversity will go after each others throat or after the world has decided to stop accepting dollars of after a major disruption of the flow of oil. Or all three at the same time.

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