Republican senators have been calling on President Obama to take action against the regime of Bashar al-Assad over its reported use of a chemical weapon against rebel forces in Syria's civil war. A White House official has acknowledged that intelligence agencies have reported "with varying degrees of confidence" the small-scale use by Assad of the chemical agent Sarin. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was quick to remind the Obama administration of the president's previous warnings to the Assad regime that the use of chemical weapons would be crossing a "red line" that would trigger a U.S. response.
"The president clearly stated that it was a red line and that it couldn't be crossed without the United States taking vigorous action," McCain told Fox News April 25. The Arizona Republican called for the United States to help establish a no-fly zone and "safe zone" in Syria, as well as provide weapons to the "right people.
In a letter to McCain and Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.), Miguel Rodriguez, assistant to the president and director of the Office of Legislative Affairs, stressed the need to "build on these intelligence assessments as we seek to establish credible and corroborated facts. While the use of Sarin "probably originated with the Assad regime," Rodriguez wrote, "the chain of custody is not clear so we cannot confirm how the exposure occurred or under what conditions." In an apparent reference to the Iraq War, Rodriguez cautioned:
Given the stakes involved, and what we have learned from our own recent experience, intelligence assessments alone are not sufficient — only credible and corroborated facts that provide us with some degree of certainty will guide our decision-making and strengthen our leadership of the international community.
McCain dismissed that "caveat" as an excuse. "I worry that the president and the administration will use these caveats as an excuse not to act right away or act at all," he said in his Fox News interview.
The White House statement was in response to a letter to the president on Wednesday from McCain, Levin, and six other senators, posing the question: "Has the Assad regime, or Syrian elements associated with, or supported by, the Assad regime, used chemical weapons in Syria since the current conflict began in March 2011?" The letter also referred to findings of "the French, British and Israeli governments" and "the intelligence underlying their claims."
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