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The Battle for Syria

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US Believes Syria Used Chemical Weapons, Crossing 'Red Line'

April 25th 2013

Syria fighting injured baby

The White House on Thursday said the intelligence community believes the forces of Syrian President Bashar Assad used chemical weapons, crossing a “red line” set by President Obama.

“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,” Miguel Rodriguez, director of the White House office of legislative affairs, wrote to senators on Thursday.

But the Obama administration cautioned it still has to “build on these intelligence assessments as we seek to establish credible and corroborated facts,” suggesting that the administration is not yet planning any military action against Assad's regime.

“Given the stakes involved, and what we have learned from our own recent experience, intelligence assessments alone are not sufficient — only credible and corroborated facts that provide us with some degree of certainty will guide our decision-making,” the letter says.

“The United States and the international community have a number of potential responses available, and no option is off the table.” Senators from both parties quickly called for the White House to take action.

"It's up to the commander in chief, but something has to be done,” said Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate. Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who have long called for creating a no-fly zone in Syria, said it’s time for the White House to ramp up its involvement in Syria.

“The president of the United States said that if Bashar Assad used chemical weapons it would be a game changer, that it would cross a red line. I think it’s pretty obvious that red line has been crossed,” McCain said. McCain said that he wanted the White House to create a safe zone for the Syrian opposition, establish a no-fly zone and arm vetted rebel groups. “Boots on the ground” would not be needed to take those steps, McCain said.

He also criticized the Obama administration and others who have cautioned against taking stronger action in Syria as the two-year civil war there has shown little signs of stopping. Everything that the non-interventionists said would happen in Syria if we intervened has happened,” McCain said. “The jihadists are on the ascendency, there are chemical weapons being used and the massacres continue.”

Thursday’s response from the White House came after a bipartisan group of eight senators sent a letter to Obama Wednesday asking him whether chemical weapons had been used.

The letter from the senators — which included the Democratic chairmen of the Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committees — highlighted the pressure that’s now coming from both parties for the Obama administration to do more in Syria.

“While more work needs to be done to fully verify this assessment — like making sure we understand the chain of custody of the evidence — it is becoming increasingly clear that we must step up our efforts,” Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who was on the letter to Obama, said in a statement.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Thursday that the intelligence community’s conclusion that chemical weapons were used was made in the past 24 hours. “We cannot confirm the origin of these weapons, but we do believe that any use of chemical weapons in Syria would very likely have originated with the Assad regime,” Hagel said during a trip to the United Arab Emirates. "It violates every convention of warfare,” Hagel said, according to the Associated Press.

Jeremy Herb and Julian Picquet write for The Hill, from where this article is adapted.

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