News / USA

US Treads Carefully on Syria Chemical Weapons Question

Animal carcasses in wake of what residents describe as a chemical weapons attack in Khan al-Assal area, near Aleppo, Syria, March 23, 2013.Animal carcasses in wake of what residents describe as a chemical weapons attack in Khan al-Assal area, near Aleppo, Syria, March 23, 2013.
x
Animal carcasses in wake of what residents describe as a chemical weapons attack in Khan al-Assal area, near Aleppo, Syria, March 23, 2013.
Animal carcasses in wake of what residents describe as a chemical weapons attack in Khan al-Assal area, near Aleppo, Syria, March 23, 2013.
The Obama administration's cautious stance regarding Syria's alleged chemical weapons use has created a dilemma for U.S. policymakers as they seek to investigate the claims, analysts say. 
 
British, French and Israeli officials have charged that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has used chemical weapons against rebel forces.
 
But the United States has been far more tepid, saying U.S. intelligence agencies “assess with varying degrees of confidence that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale in Syria, specifically the chemical agent sarin.”
 
At the same time, the administration said it would “seek to establish credible and corroborated facts” and “fully investigate any and all evidence of chemical weapons use in Syria.”
 
During a recent news conference, President Barack Obama said the U.S. should not rush to judgment without hard, effective proof.
 
US caution
 
“What we now have is evidence that chemical weapons have been used inside of Syria,” said President Obama. “But we don’t know how they were used, when they were used, who used them. We don’t have a chain of custody that establishes what exactly happened.”

Obama said he must have all the facts before deciding what to do next in Syria.
 
Greg Thielmann, a former State Department intelligence analyst now with the Arms Control Association, a private research group, agreed with the administration’s cautious approach.
 
“If one is talking about reacting to this in a way that would embroil the United States either on the ground or in other ways militarily,” said Thielmann, “in this very complicated Syrian political situation, we better know exactly what the reason for that is.”
 
Thielmann said the memory of Iraq and its so-called weapons of mass destruction is very much on the minds of policymakers today.
 
“In the case of Iraq, we knew a great deal more about Iraq’s chemical weapons infrastructure and even some of the individuals involved as a result of the first Gulf War," said Thielmann. "We had United Nations inspectors in the country. We oversaw the destruction of chemical weapons. We had access to a lot of records.
 
“We have none of that in the case of the Syrian regime. In relative terms, we knew a lot more about Saddam Hussein and his chemical weapons status at the time of our invasion of Iraq, than we do in the case of Syria, and that should definitely give one pause. We got it wrong even then.”
 
Bolton: A question of credibility
 
But other experts say President Obama is backtracking on his earlier statements when he warned President Assad that the use of chemical weapons would be “a game changer” and cross “a red line” that would trigger a U.S. response.
 
Obama did not clarify what kind of response he was talking about, but for John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, the president’s words were unambiguous.
 
“The clear implication of something being a ‘game changer’ with ‘enormous consequences’ — those are the president’s own words — that was an implication that the United States, together with allies perhaps, would use military force," said Bolton. "I think that’s what everybody understood it to mean.”
 
Bolton said by not acting, the president damages his credibility and that of the United States.
 
“Because the implication is that having set a ‘red line’ and then not acting on it, other ‘red lines’ that the president has set are equally tenuous,” said Bolton. “For example, that all options are on the table to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons — I think the almost inescapable conclusion both in Iran and Israel is that all options are not on the table. And I think that really is a ‘game changer’ in the Middle East.”
 
Bolton said in addition to Iran and Israel, North Korea is watching closely to see what action President Obama will take — if anything.

Andre de Nesnera

Andre de Nesnera is senior analyst at the Voice of America, where he has reported on international affairs for more than three decades. Now serving in Washington D.C., he was previously senior European correspondent based in London, established VOA’s Geneva bureau in 1984 and in 1989 was the first VOA correspondent permanently accredited in the Soviet Union.

You May Like

Turkish Public Fears Jihadists More Than Kurds

Turkey facing twin threats of terrorism by Islamic State and PKK Kurdish separatists, says President Erdogan’s ruling AK Party More

Video One Year After Massacre, Iraq’s Yazidis a Broken People

Minority community still recovering from devastating assault by IS militants which spurred massive outrage More

‘Malvertisements’ Undermine Internet Trust

Hackers increasingly prey on users' trust of major websites to delivery malicious software More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Greg
May 04, 2013 7:56 AM
Clearly the UN has failed to stop the airstrikes, artillery barrages and the use of the army against the civillian population. Syria has steadfastly ignored the UN overtures to stop the violence, this much is very clear. Surely the Western powers can stop this carnage by taking the appropriate action, or will Syria be allowed to commit carnage on an unprecedented scale.?

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Communityi
X
Sharon Behn
August 03, 2015 2:23 PM
A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Community

A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Bangkok Warned It Soon Could Be Submerged

Italy's Venice and America's New Orleans are not the only cities gradually submerging. The nearly ten million residents of the Bangkok urban area now must confront warnings the city could become uninhabitable in a few decades. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Thai capital.
Video

Video Inclusive Gym Gets People With Disabilities in Fitness Spirit

Individuals with special needs are 58 percent more likely to be obese than the general population. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, they also have an increased likelihood of anxiety, depression and social isolation. But a sports club outside Washington wants to make a difference in these people's lives. With Carol Pearson narrating, VOA's June Soh reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Special Olympics Show Competitors' Skill, Determination

Special Olympics competitions will wrap up Saturday in Los Angeles, and the closing ceremony for athletes with intellectual disabilities will be held Sunday night. In a week of competition, athletes have shown what they can do through skill and determination. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Shooter’s Grill: Serving Food with a Touch of the Second Amendment

Shooter's Grill, a restaurant in Rifle, Colorado, attracts visitors from all over the world as well as local patrons. The reason? Waitresses openly carry loaded firearms as they serve food, and customers are welcome to carry them, too. VOA's Enming Liu and Lin Yang paid a visit to Shooter's Grill, and heard different opinions about this unique establishment.
Video

Video Despite Controversy, Business Owner Continues Sale of Confederate Flags

At Cooter’s, a store in rural Sperryville, Virginia, about 120 kilometers west of Washington, D.C., Confederate flags are flying off the shelves. The red, white and blue battle flag, with 13 white stars representing the Confederate states, was carried by southern forces during the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s. The South had seceded from the Union over several key issues of disagreement, including slavery. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs