By Jim Garamone
WASHINGTON, April 25, 2013 - There is evidence that the Syrian government used chemical weapons on its own people, but the world needs "clear evidentiary facts" before acting, a White House official said today.
The official spoke to reporters on background after the release of a White House letter to Senate leaders saying that "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."
For some time, President Barack Obama has been concerned that Bashar Assad's regime would use some of its significant chemical stockpile against the Syrian people, and he tasked intelligence agencies to monitor the country, the official said. The president has said any number of times that Syrian use of chemical weapons or transfer of chemical weapons to terror groups would cross a "red line."
While intelligence indicates that sarin was used, more facts need to be ascertained, the White House official said.
"The chain of custody is not clear, so we cannot confirm how the exposure occurred and under what conditions," he said. "If we reach a definitive determination that this red line has been crossed based on credible corroborated information, what we will be doing is consulting closely with our friends and allies and the international community more broadly, and the Syrian opposition, to determine what the best course of action is.
"All options are on the table," he continued, "and it could run ... a broad spectrum of activity across ... various lines of activity in Syria."
The president is calling on the United Nations to lead a comprehensive evaluation of the evidence and establish what exactly took place, the official said. While the U.N. investigation proceeds, he added, U.S. officials will work with friends, allies and the Syrian opposition to procure, share and evaluate additional information.
"Given the stakes involved, given how serious the situation is and what we've learned from our own recent experience, intelligence assessments are not alone sufficient [for action]," the official said. "Only credible and corroborated facts that provide us with some degree of certainty can then guide our decision making."
News reports have said that Syrian forces used chemical weapons in Aleppo, Damascus and Homs. The official would not comment on the areas where the "physiological evidence" came from. Typically physiological evidence comes from tissue, soil or water samples, officials said.
The United States is aiding Syrians seeking to overthrow the Assad regime. America has provided hundreds of millions of dollars in nonlethal aid to the people of Syria and for training for opposition leaders.
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