President Barack Obama said the U.S. will seek confirmation along with the United Nations that Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria used chemical weapons in that country’s civil war, reiterating that confirmation would be a “game-changer” for the U.S. response.
Speaking before a private White House meeting with Jordan’s King Abdullah II, Obama repeated the language the administration used yesterday that intelligence agencies have “varying degrees of confidence” in evidence that chemical munitions were used against Assad’s opposition.
“The use of chemical weapons, and the dangers that poses to the international community, to neighbors of Syria, the potential for chemical weapons to get in the hands of terrorists -- all of those things add increased urgency to what is already a significant security problem,” he said.
In his first public remarks since the U.S. disclosed it has evidence that chemical weapons were used in Syria, Obama didn’t specify what action the U.S. might take.
The president is under pressure from from American lawmakers to take stronger action in Syria following U.S. intelligence assessments that sarin nerve gas may have been used in the conflict. The administration has resisted providing arms to the rebels or taking direct military action.
Abdullah also is pressing Obama to speed resolution of the two-year-old civil war in Syria, which has pushed more than a half-million refugees into Jordan. Obama said the crush of refugees is putting an “enormous strain” on Jordan.
In a letter to lawmakers yesterday, the Obama administration said that there is evidence of use of sarin nerve gas that needs to be corroborated. The current intelligence shows there’s “not sufficient” evidence to take action, it said.
The U.K., Israel and France also have cited evidence of chemical weapons use. Syrian officials deny that its government forces used chemical weapons against rebels.
More than 70,000 Syrians have died in the uprising against Assad that began in March 2011, and an additional 1.3 million have fled their homes and country.