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U.S. Suspects Syria Used Chemical Weapons, Wants Proof

Clashes in Syria

Washington – The White House said on Thursday the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad had probably used chemical weapons on a small scale in the country’s civil war, but insisted that President Barack Obama needed definitive proof before he would take action. The disclosure created a quandary for Obama, who has set the use of chemical weapons as a “red line” that Assad must not cross. It triggered calls from some hawkish Washington lawmakers for a U.S. military response, which the president has resisted.

In a shift from a White House assessment just days earlier, U.S. officials said the intelligence community believed with “varying degrees of confidence” that the chemical nerve agent sarin was used by Assad’s forces against rebel fighters. But it noted that “the chain of custody is not clear.”

While Obama has declared that the deployment of chemical weapons would be a game-changer and has threatened unspecified consequences if it happened, his administration is moving carefully – saying it is mindful of the lessons of the start of the Iraq war more than a decade ago. Then, the George W. Bush administration used inaccurate intelligence to justify the invasion of Iraq in pursuit of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons that turned out not to exist.

“Given the stakes involved and what we have learned from our own recent experiences, intelligence assessments alone are not sufficient – only credible and corroborated facts that provide us with some degree of certainty will guide our decision-making,” Miguel Rodriguez, White House director of the office of legislative affairs, said in a letter to lawmakers.

One senior U.S. defense official told reporters, “We have seen very bad movies before,” where intelligence was perceived to have driven policy decisions that later, in the cold light of day, were proven wrong. (Reuters)

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