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US Cannot 'Conclusively Determine' Chemical Weapons Use in Syria

US Cannot 'Conclusively Determine' Chemical Weapons Attack in Syria
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US Cannot 'Conclusively Determine' Chemical Weapons Attack in Syria

The United States says it can not yet "conclusively determine" that chemical weapons were used in an attack in Syria Wednesday that Syrian opposition leaders say killed more than 1,000 people. Secretary of State John Kerry discussed the attack on Thursday with counterparts from the European Union, France, Turkey, Jordan, and Qatar.

U.S. officials say they are gathering information about Wednesday's alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria as President Obama considers how to respond.

"If these reports are true, it would be an outrageous and flagrant escalation of use of chemical weapons by the regime. So our focus is on nailing down the facts. The president, of course, has a range of options," said State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki.

With French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius suggesting using force if chemical weapons claims prove true, U.S. officials say they have been increasing assistance to Syrian rebels since concluding that Syrian government forces launched earlier chemical weapons attacks. But that's not enough, said former U.S. ambassador Adam Ereli.

"We say we are going to support the opposition. We say we have red lines," he said. "We say they're being crossed. And we say we are going to do something. But we don't really do enough to have it be meaningful in any substantive way."

Ereli said U.S. inaction emboldens Syria's allies Iran and Hezbollah.

"We're going to provide arms. What arms? Don't know," he said. "We're going to provide assistance. What assistance? Well, humanitarian assistance. Does that help? It helps the people of Syria, which is great. Does it help get rid of Bashar al-Assad? No."

Syrian rebel spokesman Louay Meqdad said Arab Gulf states are stepping up to arm the rebellion, not the West.

"We are receiving some shipments from some countries, and exactly from some Arabic countries," he said. "Till now the Europe countries, especially France and Britain, and the United States governments, they didn't get any serious step in this field to give us the proper weapons that we need."

Russia's support for President Bashar al-Assad complicates Washington's response as Moscow suggests rebels could have staged the chemical attack to provoke international action against Damascus.

"We expect that experts will clarify this issue and will help to disperse numerous speculations about the use of Syrian chemical weapons," said Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich.

If Syrian forces have nothing to do with chemical weapons, U.S. officials say Damascus should allow U.N. weapons inspectors who are already in the country to gather information about the attack.