British Prime Minister David Cameron said on Friday that growing evidence of the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime was “extremely serious”.
He agreed with U.S. President Barack Obama that such use would represent a “red line” for the international community, but said the response would likely be political rather than military.
“This is extremely serious. And I think what President Obama said was absolutely right, that this should form for the international community a red line for us to do more,” Cameron told the BBC.
The United States said Thursday for the first time that Syria had likely used chemical weapons against rebel forces, but emphasized spy agencies were still not 100 percent sure of the assessment.
US intelligence services had been investigating reports that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces had used chemical arms — a move Washington has said would cross a “red line,” triggering possible military action.
A senior White House official said “all options are on the table” should use of the weapons be confirmed, but a US defense official stressed that a military intervention was not imminent and signaled spy agencies had differing opinions.
“Our intelligence community does assess with varying degrees of confidence that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale in Syria,” US National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said.
The assessment, which she said was based in part on “physiological samples,” points to the possible use of sarin, a man-made nerve agent used in two attacks in Japan in the 1990s. It can cause convulsions, respiratory failure and death.
Hayden however warned the chain of custody of the weapons was “not clear, so we cannot confirm how the exposure occurred and under what conditions.”
“Given the stakes involved, and what we have learned from our own recent experience, intelligence assessments alone are not sufficient,” she said.
US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, speaking in Abu Dhabi, said the decision to release the intelligence report had been “made within the past 24 hours” and warned that use of such weapons “violates every convention of warfare.”
A US defense official traveling with Hagel confirmed that the phrase “varying degrees of confidence” is a term commonly used by the intelligence community to indicate disagreement among various agencies.
But the assessment reflected a degree of certainty that Syria most likely has fired chemical agents and was not merely a tentative suspicion, the official said.
“From the moment the international community understands that red lines have been crossed and that chemical weapons have been used, they will realize there’s no other choice than to react (militarily),” Zeev Elkin told Israeli army radio.
“It’s clear that if the U.S. and the international community wish to, they can react militarily and take control of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal,” Elkin added.
“This will put an end to all concerns,” he said.
AP & Reuters