WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States has seen intelligence raising serious concerns that President Bashar al-Assad’s government is considering using chemical weapons, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said on Thursday without elaborating on the nature of that intelligence.
“I think there is no question that we remain very concerned, very concerned that as the opposition advances - in particular on Damascus - that the regime might very well consider the use of chemical weapons,” Panetta told reporters in Washington.
“The intelligence that we have raises serious concerns that this is being considered.”
Several Western countries have issued coordinated warnings this week to Assad’s government not to use chemical weapons, many citing secret intelligence that U.S. officials have said showed Assad’s government might be preparing to use poison gas.
U.S. President Barack Obama has warned of consequences should Assad use the weapons, with the White House citing “contingency planning” when asked about the possibility of military intervention.
Panetta restated Obama’s warning of consequences for Assad on Thursday, adding: “I‘m not going to speculate or comment on what those potential consequences would be.”
“But I think it’s fair enough to say that their use of those weapons would cross a red line for us,” he said.
Reporting by David Alexander and Phil Stewart; Editing by Stacey Joyce