Syria crisis : US official says ‘very little doubt’ chemical weapon was used/most Americans do not want war

the guardian.com – Sunday 25 August 2013


Photo: US defense secretary Chuck Hagel says the administration is still assessing information about the attack. Photograph: Pete Marovich/EPA

US intelligence assessment to the White House comes as Obama debates options over military intervention in civil war

A senior US administration official said there is “very little doubt” that a chemical weapon was used by the Syrian regime against civilians in an incident that killed at least a hundred people last week.

The official said on Sunday that the US intelligence community based its assessment given to the White House on “the reported number of victims, reported symptoms of those who were killed or injured, and witness accounts”. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak publicly.

The statements came a day after President Barack Obama met his top military and national security advisers to debate options. US defense officials, meanwhile, have repositioned naval forces in the Mediterranean to give Obama the option for a missile strike on Assad’s regime, which has been backed by Russia and China.

US secretary of defense Chuck Hagel offered no hints Sunday about likely US response, telling reporters traveling with him in Malaysia that the Obama administration is still assessing intelligence information about the deadly attack.

“When we have more information, that answer will become clear,” he said when a reporter asked whether it was a matter of when, not if, the US will take military action against Syria.

Syria said any military action would be “no picnic”.

“US military intervention will create a very serious fallout and a ball of fire that will inflame the Middle East,” Syrian information minister Omran Zoabi was quoted by state news agency SANA as saying to Lebanon-based al-Mayadeen TV.

Obama has been reluctant to intervene in Syria’s civil war, but reports of the killings near Damascus have put pressure on the White House to make good on the president’s comment a year ago that chemical weapons would be a “red line” for the US.

President Bashar al-Assad’s closest ally Iran also said Washington should not cross the “red line” on Syria, where doctors accused his forces of a poison gas attack that killed hundreds last week.

Syrian opposition accounts that between 500 and well over 1,000 civilians were killed this week by gas in munitions fired by pro-government forces, and video footage of victims’ bodies, have stoked demands abroad for a robust, US-led response after 2-1/2 years of international inaction on Syria’s conflict.

A Reuters Ipsos poll released Sunday found Americans strongly oppose US intervention in Syria’s civil war and believe Washington should stay out of the conflict even if the chemical weapons claims are confirmed.

About 60% of Americans surveyed said the United States should not intervene in Syria’s civil war, while just 9% thought Obama should act.

More Americans would back intervention if it is established that chemical weapons have been used, but even that support has dipped in recent days – just as Syria’s civil war has escalated and the images of hundreds of civilians allegedly killed by chemicals appeared on television screens and the Internet.

The Reuters/Ipsos poll, taken August 19-23, found that 25% of Americans would support US intervention if al-Assad’s forces used chemicals to attack civilians, while 46% would oppose it. That represented a decline in backing for US action since August 13, when Reuters/Ipsos tracking polls found that 30.2% of Americans supported intervention in Syria if chemicals had been used, while 41.6% did not.

Taken together, the polls suggest that so far, the growing crisis in Syria, and the emotionally wrenching pictures from an alleged chemical attack in a Damascus suburb last week, may actually be hardening many Americans’ resolve not to get involved in another conflict in the Middle East.

The results – and Reuters/Ipsos polling on the use-of-chemicals question since early June – suggest that if Obama decides to undertake military action against Assad’s regime, he will do so in the face of steady opposition from an American public wary after more than a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Read entire article here

Posted by Teri Perticone

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