News Column

Syria Nerve Gas Finding Is 'Red Line,' McCain Says

April 26, 2013

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said Washington should set up a Syria no-fly zone following a report the Assad regime likely used chemical weapons in its civil war.

"The president of the United States said that if [Syrian President Bashar Assad] used chemical weapons, it would be a game changer -- that it would cross a 'red line' -- and it's pretty obvious that red line has been crossed," McCain was quoted by The Wall Street Journal as saying.

"Now I hope the administration will consider what we have been recommending now for over two years of this bloodletting and massacre, and that is to provide a safe area for opposition to operate, to establish a no-fly zone and provide weapons to the people in the resistance who we trust," McCain said.

The White House said it needs more conclusive evidence before President Barack Obama will take action.

"We are continuing to do further work to establish a definitive judgment as to whether or not the red line has been crossed and to inform our decision-making about what to do next," a White House official told reporters.

The comments came after the White House said in a letter to congressional leaders the nation's intelligence agencies assessed "with varying degrees of confidence" the Assad regime used the chemical agent sarin on a small scale.

The letter was sent in a response to a letter from McCain, a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich.

The senators had asked the White House whether Assad or his supporters had used chemical weapons during the 2-year-old war, as Israel claims.

The White House said it had strong indications chemical weapons were used.

Secretary of State John Kerry told senators in Washington there may have been two instances of chemical-weapons use by the regime.

"Given the stakes involved, and what we have learned from our own recent experience, intelligence assessments alone are not sufficient," said the White House letter, signed by Legislative Director Miguel Rodriguez.

The "recent experience" was an allusion to faulty intelligence in Iraq that led to the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq.

"Only credible and corroborated facts that provide us with some degree of certainty will guide our decision-making," the White House letter said.

The administration said it supported a comprehensive U.N. investigation inside Syria to gather concrete evidence about possible chemical-weapons use.

Assad has refused to let a U.N. team into the country amid a dispute over the probe's scope.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, accused the administration of outsourcing national security to the United Nations.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said Thursday the agencies actually expressed more certainty about the chemical-weapons use than the White House letter indicated.

She was quoted in The New York Times as saying the agencies expressed medium to high confidence in their assessment.

The assessment was based on the testing of soil samples and blood drawn from people who had been wounded, Feinstein said.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, traveling in the Middle East, did not say how the administration would respond to the findings.

He told reporters in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates: "As to a red line, my role as secretary of defense is to give the president options on a policy issue. That's a policy issue. And we'll be prepared to do that at such time as the president requires options."




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