June 4, 2013 / 5:44 PM / 5 years ago

White House says not ready to say Syria used chemical weapons

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States is not ready to say the Syrian government used chemical weapons in the war-ravaged country, despite a French finding that this has in fact happened, the White House said on Tuesday in sticking with a go-it-slow approach to the issue.

“We need more information” about claims of such use, White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters.

President Barack Obama has drawn fire for his deliberate approach to Syria after warning that the government of President Bashar al-Assad would cross a “red line” if it was determined that government forces used chemical weapons to try to defeat Syrian rebels.

U.S. officials have repeatedly cited the need to be absolutely certain that chemical weapons were in fact used, lest the United States repeat what happened in 2003, when then-President George W. Bush launched a war against Iraq over reports of weapons of mass destruction that were never found.

Carney said there is a need to gather more evidence to pin down when chemical weapons were used, who employed them and what the chain of custody was, “and to establish a body of information that can be presented and reviewed, and upon which policy decisions can be made.”

He had no timetable for when this review might be completed.

“I can assure you that we are working very diligently as an administration with our allies and the Syrian opposition on this matter,” he said.

Carney also voiced outrage at the Syrian government siege of the town of Qusair and urged the Assad government to let relief supplies get into the town, which he said is suffering from a humanitarian crisis.

Reporting by Steve Holland and Laura MacInnis; Editing by Philip Barbara

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