U.S. says unable to conclusively determine chemical weapons used in Syria

WASHINGTON Thu Aug 22, 2013 3:36pm EDT

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States said on Thursday it was unable to conclusively say that chemical weapons were used in an alleged deadly gas attack near Damascus, and U.S. President Barack Obama has directed U.S. intelligence agencies to urgently help verify allegations.

"At this time, right now, we are unable to conclusively determine CW (chemical weapons) use," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters. "We are doing everything possible in our power to nail down the facts," she added.

She said Obama had instructed the U.S. intelligence community to look into what happened.

"That means gathering information from witnesses on the ground, it means intelligence gathering, it means open-source reporting, it means scientific gathering," Psaki said, acknowledging that it may be a challenging task given the United States does not have diplomatic relations with Syria.

With the death toll from Wednesday's incident estimated between 500 and 1,300, it would be the world's most lethal chemical weapons attack since the 1980s.

Secretary of State John Kerry has spoken to his counterparts in Europe and the Middle East to better understand what happened and discuss "appropriate steps".

The United States was part of a group of about 36 countries who asked the United Nations on Wednesday to immediately investigate the alleged attacks. Syria's government has offered no immediate public response to calls on Thursday for the UN to have access to the areas.

Obama warned Damascus last year that any attempt to deploy or use chemical or biological weapons would cross a "red line." Psaki on Thursday said that line had been crossed "a couple of months ago" and there were a range of options that Obama and his national security team were considering.

She declined to elaborate on what those actions could be, although the White House said in June it would offer military aid to vetted groups of Syrian rebels who have been fighting for more than two years to oust President Bashar al-Assad.

"If these reports are true it would be an outrageous and flagrant escalation of use of chemical weapons by the regime, so our focus is nailing down the facts," Psaki said.

(Reporting by Lesley Wroughton; Editing by Sandra Maler and Paul Simao)

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Comments (5)
Nazmorgul wrote:
The US GOV are such lying sacks of sh*t. They can see anything anywhere on the planet if they want, filter 75% of the internet, know when Abbu bubbu is taking a sh*t..and they cant tell what killed 1300 people all at once? Please….this is just plausible denial, they dont want to intervene or help anyone.

Aug 22, 2013 3:53pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
These deaths bring up something that has bothered me since Iraq was invaded by the Americans. An Arab student at the worldwide Pearson College of the Pacific in BC, Canada, had photographs of many, many dead IRAQ soldiers in their defensive positions at the Bagdad Airport — none of them bloodied or showing any telltale signs of what killed them, somewhat like the civilian casualties in Syria.
What and who is testing new lethal weapons using Syrian civilians as up-to-date experiments? Is this and cyberattacks the new face of modern warfare? It appears so.

Aug 22, 2013 8:48pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
Murray_B wrote:
The use of chemical weapons is a terrible crime but it is important to get the facts and be sure the guilty are punished. Videos in wartime can be difficult to interpret.

Remember the leaked video that claimed to show “collateral murder”? Everybody assumed that is what the video showed until it was posted on Youtube.

Once it was possible to view the video repeatedly a different story emerged. At least two of the “innocent” victims had AK type automatic rifles and one fellow had laid down a tube that looked about four inches in diameter and at least three feet long. It was no camera but could have been an RPG-32 which is about that size. Carrying that kind of weaponry in a war zone would have made those people legitimate targets. Even if the AKs were water guns and the tube a stovepipe it still wouldn’t have been murder. Just a mistake.

Aug 22, 2013 11:44pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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