Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Obama Again Warns Syria on Using Chemical Weapons President Says U.S. Is Uncertain If 'Red Line' Crossed

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Obama Again Warns Syria on Using Chemical Weapons President Says U.S. Is Uncertain If 'Red Line' Crossed

Article excerpt

President Barack Obama said Wednesday that the United States is still investigating whether chemical weapons were used in Syria and reiterated his pledge that their use by President Bashar Assad's government would be a "game changer" for U.S. policy.

"We have to make sure that we know exactly what happened, what was the nature of the incident, what we can document, what we can prove," Mr. Obama said at a Jerusalem news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. "I won't make an announcement today about next steps, because I think we have to gather the facts," he said.

In the past, Mr. Obama has called any use of such weapons by Mr. Assad a "red line."

The president's statements came after the Syrian government and the opposition repeated their accusations that the other side used chemical weapons in an attack Tuesday on a village near Aleppo. Both sides asked the United Nations to send a team to investigate the incident.

Although the facts have not been established yet, Mr. Obama said, he was "deeply skeptical of any claim that it was the opposition that used chemical weapons," because only the regime has the capacity to carry out such an attack. The rebels said the chemicals were delivered on a Scud missile.

Mr. Obama also defended his administration's reluctance to intervene directly to stop the slaughter in Syria, telling an Israeli reporter, "It is incorrect for you to say that we have done nothing."

The United States, he said, had helped mobilize the world to isolate Mr. Assad, provided hundreds of millions of dollars in humanitarian assistance, supported and recognized the Syrian opposition and worked with other nations to "move towards a political transition."

Mr. Obama's comments, his first since the chemical weapons reports, were backed up by Robert Ford, the U.S. ambassador to Syria, who said at a House hearing Wednesday that "so far we have no evidence to substantiate the report that chemical weapons were used yesterday. But I want to underline that we are looking very carefully at these reports," the ambassador said. "We are consulting with partners in the region and in the international community."

Mr. Ford did not respond to repeated House Foreign Affairs Committee members' queries about what action the administration would take if Mr. Assad were proven to have used chemical weapons. "I absolutely do not want to go into hypotheticals," he said. …

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