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White House Assesses Assad Used Sarin, Will Boost Opposition Aid

American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 13, 2013 – The White House in a statement today condemned Bashar Assad’s regime in Syria for multiple uses of chemical weapons against Syrian citizens, and pledged increased aid to opposition forces there.

In a statement to Congress and the public, the administration alleged “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.”

The statement, credited to deputy national security advisor for strategic communications Ben Rhodes, noted President Barack Obama has said his strategic approach to the Syrian conflict would change given clear evidence of chemical weapons use.

“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, and we will be consulting with Congress on these matters in the coming weeks,” the statement reads in part. “ … 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, Rhodes said.

“We are prepared for all contingencies, and we will make decisions on our own timeline,” he said. “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.”

The statement cites intelligence reports, witness interviews, medical reports and open-source reporting, including on social media platforms, as providing “multiple, independent streams of information” on which to base the assessment of chemical weapons use.

“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,” Rhodes said. “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.”

He added, “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.”

The White House and allies will “present a credible, evidentiary case to share with the international community and the public,” Rhodes said. “… We will also be providing a letter to [United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon], calling the U.N.’s attention to our updated intelligence assessment and specific incidents of alleged chemical weapons use. We request that the U.N. mission include these incidents in its ongoing investigation and report, as appropriate, on its findings.” 

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