U.S. intelligence community assesses that Assad used chemical weapons
Ben Rhodes, the White House's deputy national security advisor for strategic communications, made the remarks on Thursday as part of an update to an assessment made by the intelligence community in April. Rhodes said the U.S. used multiple, independent streams of information to assess with high confidence that Assad's regime used chemical weapons, such as the nerve agent sarin, against its opponents.
"Following a deliberative review, our intelligence community assesses 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," Rhodes said. "Our intelligence community has high confidence in that assessment given multiple, independent streams of information. 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 the U.S. has no reliable, corroborated evidence to show that the Syrian opposition acquired or used chemical weapons in retaliation.
Rhodes also pointed out how Syria's crossing of the red line of chemical weapon use changed U.S. President Barack Obama's approach to the matter.
"The President has said that the use of chemical weapons would change his calculus, and it has," Rhodes said. "Our decision making has already been guided by the April intelligence assessment and by the regime's escalation of horrific violence against its citizens. 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."
Rhodes said the U.S. and other countries have multiple legal, diplomatic, financial and military responses available to deal with Syria's chemical weapon use. He said the U.S. will make decisions on its own timeline when it comes to future action.
"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," Rhodes said.