WHITE HOUSE: ‘ASSAD REGIME HAS USED CHEMICAL WEAPONS’ – US WILL GIVE ARMS TO SYRIAN REBELS

Weekly Standard on June 13, 2013, published a statement on Syrian use of chemical weapons. Excerpts below:

At the President’s direction, the United States Government has been closely monitoring the potential use of chemical weapons within Syria. Following the assessment made by our intelligence community in April, the President directed the intelligence community to seek credible and corroborated information to build on that assessment and establish the facts with some degree of certainty. Today, we are providing an updated version of our assessment to Congress and to the public.

The Syrian government’s refusal to grant access to the United Nations to investigate any and all credible allegations of chemical weapons use has prevented a comprehensive investigation as called for by the international community.

While pushing for a UN investigation, the United States has also been working urgently with our partners and allies as well as individuals inside Syria, including the Syrian opposition, to procure, share, and evaluate information associated with reports of chemical weapons use so that we can establish the facts and determine what took place.

Following a deliberative review, our intelligence community assesses that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons, including the nerve agent sarin, on a small scale against the opposition multiple times in the last year. Our intelligence community has high confidence in that assessment given multiple, independent streams of information. The intelligence community estimates that 100 to 150 people have died from detected chemical weapons attacks in Syria to date; however, casualty data is likely incomplete. While the lethality of these attacks make up only a small portion of the catastrophic loss of life in Syria, which now stands at more than 90,000 deaths, the use of chemical weapons violates international norms and crosses clear red lines that have existed within the international community for decades. We believe that the Assad regime maintains control of these weapons. We have no reliable, corroborated reporting to indicate that the opposition in Syria has acquired or used chemical weapons.

We are working with allies to present a credible, evidentiary case to share with the international community and the public. Since the creation of the UN fact finding mission, we have provided two briefings to Dr. Åke Sellström, the head of the mission. We will also be providing a letter to UN Secretary General Ban, calling the UN’s attention to our updated intelligence assessment and specific incidents of alleged chemical weapons use. We request that the UN mission include these incidents in its ongoing investigation and report, as appropriate, on its findings.

The President has been clear that the use of chemical weapons – or the transfer of chemical weapons to terrorist groups – is a red line for the United States, as there has long been an established norm within the international community against the use of chemical weapons. Our intelligence community now has a high confidence assessment that chemical weapons have been used on a small scale by the Assad regime in Syria. The President has said that the use of chemical weapons would change his calculus, and it has. Our decision making has already been guided by the April intelligence assessment and by the regime’s escalation of horrific violence against its citizens. Following on the credible evidence that the regime has used chemical weapons against the Syrian people, the President has augmented the provision of non-lethal assistance to the civilian opposition, and also authorized the expansion of our assistance to the Supreme Military Council (SMC), and we will be consulting with Congress on these matters in the coming weeks. This effort is aimed at strengthening the effectiveness of the SMC, and helping to coordinate the provision of assistance by the United States and other partners and allies. Put simply, the Assad regime should know that its actions have led us to increase the scope and scale of assistance that we provide to the opposition, including direct support to the SMC. These efforts will increase going forward.

The United States and the international community have a number of other legal, financial, diplomatic, and military responses available. We are prepared for all contingencies, and we will make decisions on our own timeline. Any future action we take will be consistent with our national interest, and must advance our objectives, which include achieving a negotiated political settlement to establish an authority that can provide basic stability and administer state institutions; protecting the rights of all Syrians; securing unconventional and advanced conventional weapons; and countering terrorist activity.

Further BBC News on June 14, 2013, reported that the US will give military aid to Syria rebels. Excerpts below:

President Obama made the decision after his administration concluded Syrian forces under Bashar al-Assad were using chemical weapons, a spokesman said.

Ben Rhodes did not give details about the military aid other than to say it would be “different in scope and scale to what we have provided before”.

Initially US support looks likely to involve the supply of light arms and ammunition. Mr Rhodes says that the President has not made any decision to pursue a military option, like a no-fly zone, and he has ruled out the deployment of US ground troops. Requests from the opposition for anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons are, we understand, still a matter of discussion.

It seems clear that President Obama has finally been persuaded, as Britain and France have argued, that the battlefield cannot be allowed to tilt strongly in the regime’s favour, as is currently happening, he adds.

Washington’s “clear” statement was welcomed by Nato Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who urged Syria to let the UN “investigate all reports of chemical weapons use”.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the UK agreed with Washington’s assessment and said an urgent response to the Syria crisis would be discussed at the G8 this week.

The Wall Street Journal reported that Washington is also considering a no-fly zone inside Syria, possibly near the border with Jordan, that would protect refugees and rebels who are training there.

When asked whether Mr Obama would back a no-fly zone over Syria, Mr Rhodes said one would not make a “huge difference” on the ground – and would be costly.

He said further actions would be taken “on our own timeline.”

The CIA is expected to co-ordinate delivery of the military equipment and train the rebel soldiers in how to use it.

Until now, the US has limited its help to rebel forces by providing rations and medical supplies.

Mr Rhodes said the White House hoped the increased support would bolster the effectiveness and legitimacy of both the political and military arms of Syria’s rebels, and said the US was “comfortable” working with SMC chief Gen Salim Idris.

“It’s been important to work through them while aiming to isolate some of the more extremist elements of the opposition, such as al-Nusra,” he said.
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The support of the West’s regional allies, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, had helped the rebels in the days after the uprising became militarised.

But the tide turned after the Assad government turned to Moscow and Tehran for help. Hezbollah fighters have also been involved in the government’s counter-offensive.

Now the West is lining up to try and help the rebels, but that is likely to take many months with more bloodshed and destruction, our correspondent adds.

Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, who have been particularly strident in their calls for military aid, said the finding must change US policy in Syria. They called for further action, saying US credibility was on the line.

“A decision to provide lethal assistance, especially ammunition and heavy weapons, to opposition forces in Syria is long overdue, and we hope the president will take this urgently needed step,” they said in a joint statement.

Senator John McCain: “We don’t want boots on the ground”.

“But providing arms alone is not sufficient. The president must rally an international coalition to take military actions to degrade Assad’s ability to use airpower and ballistic missiles and to move and resupply his forces around the battlefield by air.”

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