A senior US administration official said Thursday that “all options are on the table” if it can be confirmed that Syria has used chemical weapons against opposition forces.
The White House said earlier in the day that Syria had likely used chemical weapons against rebel fighters on a “small scale,” but emphasized that US intelligence agencies are still not 100 percent sure of the assessment.
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Washington wants to be absolutely sure that Syria has used chemical weapons before concluding that Damascus has crossed a “red line,” triggering possible military action.
“What we will be doing is consulting closely with our friends and allies and the international community more broadly as well as the Syrian opposition to determine what the best course of action is,” he told reporters.
“I don’t want to go to hypotheticals at this juncture,” the official added.
“But suffice to say, all options are on the table, in terms of our response, and it could run a broad spectrum of activity across our various types of efforts in Syria.”
The official recalled that the United States is already engaged in “diplomatic initiatives [and] assistance to the opposition” in Syria, where the US says a grinding civil war has left more than 70,000 dead since March 2011.
“But again, at the president’s direction, there are additional options and contingencies that we prepare for, that we would have to consider as we make our determination about chemical weapon use.”
Speaking earlier Thursday, National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said US intelligence services have assessed “with varying degrees of confidence” that Syria has used chemical weapons “on a small scale.”
The assessment, based in part on what Hayden called “physiological samples,” points to the possible use of sarin, a man-made nerve agent used in two attacks in Japan in the 1990s.
Hayden warned, however, the chain of custody of the weapons was “not clear, so we cannot confirm how the exposure occurred and under what conditions.”
“Given the stakes involved, and what we have learned from our own recent experience, intelligence assessments alone are not sufficient,” she said.
Mounting evidence of chemical weapons attacks on fighters battling Assad’s regime could increase the pressure on Obama — who has sought to avoid any US military role in the conflict — to intervene.
On Capitol Hill, members of Congress urged Obama to take action to “secure” Syria’s chemical weapons.
“I think it’s pretty obvious that a red line has been crossed,” Senator John McCain told reporters, adding that there is a danger of chemical weapons falling into the hands of extremists.
“We have to have operational capability to secure these chemical weapon stocks. We do not want them to fall into the wrong hands, and the wrong hands are a number of participants in the struggle that’s taking place in Syria.”
04/25/2013 - AFP