U.S. evaluating Syria chemical weapons charges

WASHINGTON Tue Mar 19, 2013 1:21pm EDT

White House press secretary Jay Carney speaks to reporters at the White House in Washington February 28, 2013. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

White House press secretary Jay Carney speaks to reporters at the White House in Washington February 28, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States said on Tuesday it was evaluating allegations of chemical weapons use in Syria but dismissed charges that the opposition had used such weapons in the two-year-old conflict.

The Syrian government and rebels accused each other of launching a deadly chemical attack near the northern city of Aleppo.

"We are looking carefully at allegations of ... chemical weapons use, we are evaluating them," White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters.

"We have no evidence to substantiate the charge that the opposition has used chemical weapons," he said.

"We are deeply skeptical of a regime that has lost all credibility and we would also warn the regime against making these kinds of charges as any kind of pretext or cover for its use of chemical weapons."

The State Department echoed those comments and the Pentagon said it was monitoring the situation.

"I have no information at this time to corroborate any claims that chemical weapons have been used in Syria," Pentagon spokesman George Little said. "The use of chemical weapons in Syria would be deplorable."

Carney reiterated that President Barack Obama has said there would be consequences and the government of President Bashar al-Assad would be held accountable if chemical weapons were used. Carney would not say what those consequences would entail.

The United States has been concerned that the Assad government would consider using chemical weapons as it becomes "increasingly beleaguered and finds its escalation of violence through conventional means inadequate," Carney said. "This is a serious concern."

He said the U.S. position is still that it is supplying only non-lethal aid to the Syrian opposition. "Our position is and remains that we are not supplying lethal assistance to the opposition," Carney said.

(Reporting by Tabassum Zakaria and David Alexander; Editing by Eric Beech and Mohammad Zargham)

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