Washington DC — US President Barack Obama has vowed a “vigorous investigation” into reports that Syria has used chemical weapons, warning they will be a “game changer” for US policy if proven true.
Report by BBC
Both the US and UK have pointed to emerging evidence that Syria has used weapons such as the nerve gas sarin.
UK Prime Minister David Cameron earlier said it appeared a war crime was being committed by Syria.
Syrian officials have denounced the allegations as “lies”.
According to the UN, at least 70 000 people have been killed in the two-year uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The US, Britain, Israel and others have been collecting evidence to try and determine whether chemical weapons have been used in Syria.
The signs so far are that they have been, but politicians are being cautious of over-selling their level of certainty.
This is partly because of the lesson of Iraq, when too much was based on too little hard information and all the caveats and cautions surrounding intelligence were lost. And also partly because this time the political context is different.
With Iraq a decision had been made to go to war and the intelligence was brought into the public domain to make the case for it. This time political leaders — especially in Washington — seem much more reluctant to intervene and so the emphasis is precisely on the caveats and cautions.
Given the problems of getting access to a warzone to gain conclusive evidence, finding absolutely definitive evidence may be hard and take time. This may buy politicians in Washington and London time to work out what they do if something is found.
The US president said there was “some evidence that chemical weapons have been used on the population in Syria, these are preliminary assessments, they’re based on our intelligence gathering.
“We have varying degrees of confidence about the actual use, there’s a range of questions about how, when, where these weapons have been used,” he said.
Obama insisted more evidence was still needed and that there would be a “vigorous investigation”.
But proof of their use would be a “game-changer”, he said.
“Horrific as it is when mortars are being fired on civilians and people are being indiscriminately killed, to use potential weapons of mass destruction on civilian populations crosses another line with respect to international norms and international law.
“All of us, not just the United States, but around the world, have to recognise how we cannot stand by and permit the systematic use of weapons like chemical weapons on civilian populations,” he said.