White House spokesman Jay Carney on Monday said “much more” work needs to be done to verify intelligence assessments that Syria’s regime used chemical weapons against the opposition in that country’s civil war.
The U.S. needs to investigate whether there is direct evidence that President Bashar al-Assad’s regime used the poison sarin in its fight against rebels, Carney said at a White House briefing, according to Bloomberg News.
He repeated President Barack Obama’s stance that verified use of chemical weapons by Syrian government forces or the transfer of those weapons to terrorist groups would cross a “red line” triggering U.S. action.
“The president made clear this is a very serious matter,” Carney said, adding that because of that, “it is essential to establish, you know, a broader process of verification that will allow us then to assess whether that red line has been crossed and what the policy response will be.”
Also on Monday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said that the U.S. and its allies are still trying to figure out details of Syria’s suspected use of chemical weapons.
Hagel would not discuss any military options, including whether or not the U.S. would be willing to take unilateral action against the Syrian regime or if it would act only with allies.
“We are continuing to assess what happened -- when, where,” said Hagel, adding, “I think we should wait to get the facts before we make any judgments on what action, if any should be taken, and what kind of action.”
Last week, the United States said for the first time that Syria had likely used chemical weapons against rebel forces, but emphasized spy agencies were still not 100 percent sure of the assessment.
In the past, Obama warned that use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime would cross a red line.
The president repeated last week his past assertions that the use of chemical weapons in Syria would cross a line and produce an American response, but indicated that he was not yet 100% certain that the findings by U.S. intelligence agencies are an indication that such weapons had indeed been used.
A defected general has confirmed that the Syrian government ordered the use of chemical weapons against the Free Syrian Army during select battles with Syrian regime forces.
The general, Zahir al-Sakit, told Al Arabiya that he disobeyed the orders and substituted the chemicals with disinfectant water he called “Javel water.”