Obama stalls as Syria crosses ‘red line’ with chemical weapons

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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White House officials are aggressively downplaying the growing evidence that Syria’s government has twice crossed a national security “red line” announced by President Barack Obama.

The announced “red line” was intended to deter the embattled Syrian dictatorship, headed by Bashar al-Assad, from using chemical weapons against the various Islamist and local rebel factions now trying to seize the capital city of Damascus.

“I think what the Assad regime needs to know is that we are watching this incredibly closely,” a White House official told reporters Thursday afternoon. “Were he to undertake any additional use [of chemical weapons], he would be doing so under very careful monitoring from us and the international community.”

“There should be no mistaking our determination not just to get to the bottom of these reports, but to send a message … that Bashar al-Assad and his regime will be held accountable for these types of actions,” he added.

“We’re going to be methodical, rigorous and relentless … so we can establish exactly what happened,” he said.

The official said that “all options are on the table in terms of our response,” but would not say positively that Syria has crossed the “red line.” Further inquiry and confirmation is needed, he said. (RELATED: Hagel: Syria has used chemical weapons)

Few Republican and Democratic politicians would be likely to support a military intervention in Syria, partly because it would likely involve an Iraq-like campaign to destroy the jihadi groups now fighting alongside the rebels.

The White House official spoke after Obama’s secretary of defense and secretary of state acknowledged that there is growing evidence that the Syrian regime has crossed the red line by launching chemicals weapons twice at rebels groups in cities.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Thursday that intelligence agencies have concluded that the government has used nerve-gases “on a small scale,” but still lack solid overwhelming evidence that the attacks happened.

The subsequent backtracking included a letter to Congress, in which Obama’s official said that “precisely because we take this red line so seriously that we believe there is an obligation to fully investigate any and all evidence of chemical weapons use within Syria.”

“Our standard of evidence has to build on these intelligence assessments. … We want to continue the investigation above and beyond those intelligence assessments,” the official said.

The increased burden of proof imposed on the intelligence agencies, which are now trying to prove that the Syrian government used chemical weapons, was illustrated in a Thursday letter sent to senators.

“We are currently pressing for a comprehensive United Nations investigation that can credibly evaluate the evidence and establish what took place,” said the letter.

“That U.N. investigation needs to be comprehensive, it needs to look into all alleged examples of chemical use,” the official added April 25.

U.N. investigators, however, are being blocked from Syria by the Syrian government.

“If we reach a definitive determination that the red line has been crossed … what we will be doing is consulting closely with out friends and allies … to determine what the best course of action is,” the official added.

However, those “friends and allies,” however have their own conflicting agendas that will likely preclude a consensus. These countries include Turkey, Jordan and several Gulf countries, all of which are trying to get their allied rebel groups into power.

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