Intelligence confirms, ‘with varying degree of confidence,’ small-scale use of nerve agents, defense secretary tells press conference
US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel confirmed Thursday that the US intelligence community believes Syria has likely used chemical weapons on a “small scale” against its civilians.
Hagel added that the use of chemical weapons “violates every convention of warfare.”
The statement comes on the heels of a report by a top Israeli intelligence analyst that forces loyal to President Bashar Assad had used sarin gas against rebel forces and civilians, and may push the US closer to itnervening in the two-year-old conflict.
Hagel, speaking to reporters in Abu Dhabi, said the White House has informed two senators by letter that, within the past day, “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.”
Sarin, used by Saddam Hussein in aerial strikes against Iraqi Kurds in 1988 and in a Japan terror attack in 1995, is a nerve agent that cripples the respiratory system. It is hundreds of times more toxic than cyanide and is considered a weapon of mass destruction.
No information was made public on what quantity of chemical weapons might have been used in Syria, or when or what casualties might have resulted.
Hagel and US President Barack Obama have said in the past the use of chemical weapons would be a “game-changer” in the US position on intervening in the Syrian civil war.
White House legislative director Miguel Rodriguez, who signed the letter, wrote 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 went to Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Carl Levin, D-Mich.
The assessment, Rodriguez says, is based in part on “physiological samples.”
He also said the US believes that 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.
Earlier in the week, Hagel and Secretary of State John Kerry had said they could not confirm a report by Israeli Brig. Gen. Itai Brun that the IDF was quite certain that President Bashar Assad deployed chemical weapons against rebel forces in Syria on March 19.
Speaking at a security conference in Tel Aviv on Tuesday, Brun said further that based on the pictures of the victims — the size of their pupils, “and the foam coming out of their mouths” — the army believed that Assad’s troops had used the lethal nerve gas sarin as a weapon.
Brun also claimed that in Syria today there are over 1,000 tons of chemical weapons, including sarin and VX, both of which can be deployed from artillery rounds and long-range ballistic missiles.
Chemical weapons have been used on more than one occasion in Syria, and the world’s persistent reluctance to act in response to the use of those weapons is typical of the major powers’ current approach to the tremors shaking the Middle East, Brun said.
“We should be very, very worried about [chemical weapons] falling into the hands of those who do not conduct gain-loss considerations,” he said.
Secretary of State John Kerry responded to the report by saying he had spoken to Israeli prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who could not confirm the report.
On Wednesday, Hagel said he had not been briefed on the report during consultations with Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon.
He added that Washington was looking for “real intelligence” on the issue of Syrian chemical weapon use.
“Suspicions are one thing. Evidence is another,” he said. “I think we have to be very careful here before we make any conclusions, draw any conclusions, based on real intelligence.”
Thursday, 25 April 2013
Posted @ 09:32