(CNSNews.com) – Declaring its “red line” crossed, the Obama administration said Thursday U.S. intelligence agencies believe the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons in the conflict there, at the cost of up to 150 lives.
There was no immediate word on what action the United States would take as a result of that determination, beyond the non-lethal support being given to the opposition, including the Free Syrian Army’s supreme military council.
“The United States and the international community have a number of other legal, financial, diplomatic, and military responses available,” Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security advisor for strategic communications, said in a statement. “We are prepared for all contingencies, and we will make decisions on our own timeline.”
“Any future action we take will be consistent with our national interest, and must advance our objectives,” Rhodes said.
“The President has been clear that the use of chemical weapons – or the transfer of chemical weapons to terrorist groups – is a red line for the United States, as there has long been an established norm within the international community against the use of chemical weapons.
“Our intelligence community now has a high confidence assessment that chemical weapons have been used on a small scale by the Assad regime in Syria.”
Rhodes said the intelligence agencies assess that the regime had used chemical weapons, including the nerve agent sarin, against the opposition multiple times in the last year, and estimate that 100 to 150 people had died as a result – although “casualty data is likely incomplete.”
The Syrian regime and opposition have both accused each other of using chemical agents in the 27-month conflict, but Rhodes said the U.S. had “no reliable, corroborated reporting” indicating chemical weapons acquisition or use by the rebels.
Citing reported chemical weapons use and other developments in the conflict, Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) last month introduced legislation to provide weapons and training to Syrian rebel groups “that have been properly and fully vetted and share common values and interests with the United States.”
The Syria Transition Support Act was co-sponsored by the committee’s ranking member, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.).
The committee passed the bill on May 21, but Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), one of three to vote against the legislation, warned that it amounted to funding “the allies of al-Qaeda.”
A number of jihadist Sunni groups are involved in the anti-Assad opposition, including the al-Nusrah Front, which the Obama administration says is a pseudonym for al-Qaeda in Iraq. When the U.S. last December blacklisted al-Nusrah as a terrorist organization dozens of Syrian rebel groups, including the U.S.-backed Free Syrian Army, condemned the step.