Syria has used chemical weapons, including the agent Sarin, on its citizens during the civil war in the region, according to senators briefed behind closed doors Thursday by Secretary of State John Kerry and other national security officials.
The deployment of the chemical weapons signals that Bashar Assad's government has crossed the so-called ‘red line’ the Obama administration previously set as a trigger for U.S. intervention, according to Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Republican Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.
“It is clear that ‘red lines’ have been crossed and action must be taken to prevent larger scale use,” said Feinstein, one of the chamber's more cautious and typically less vocal members on security issues. "Syria has the ability to kill tens of thousands with its chemical weapons. The world must come together to prevent this by unified action which results in the secure containment of Syria’s significant stockpile of chemical weapons.”
Feinstein added, “On the basis of this new assessment, which is matched by France and the United Kingdom, I urge the United Nations Security Council—including Russia—to finally take strong and meaningful action to end this crisis in Syria.”
McCain called on Obama to hold to his position.
“It is clear that the Syrians have crossed the red line that the president said was a game changer, so it should change the game,” McCain said.
Reading from a letter given to senators at the briefing McCain said, “‘Our intelligence community does assess with varying degrees of confidence that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale in Syria specifically the chemical agent Sarin.’”
According to Graham, the intelligence community has assessed with “moderate to high probability that small amounts of chemical weapons were used by the Assad regime.”
McCain said senators were not left with any indication about whether the information would change the U.S. policy on Syria.
“It is pretty obvious that red line has been crossed,” McCain said. “I hope that the administration will consider what we have been recommending now for over two years of this bloodletting and massacre and that is to provide a safe area for the opposition to operate, to establish a no-fly zone and provide weapons to the people in the resistance who we trust.”
McCain argued that jihadists are on the rise in the region.
“Everything that the non-interventionists said that would happen in Syria if we intervened, has happened,” he said. “The jihadists are on the ascendancy, there is chemical weapons being used, the massacres continue, the Russians continue to be assisting Bashar Assad and the Iranians are all in.”
“It requires the United States’ help and assistance,” McCain said. “It does not mean boots on the ground. Finally we have to have operational capability to secure these chemical weapons stocks. We do not want them to fall into the wrong hands.”
Graham said that fighting should be contained so the King of Jordan, who has been a stabilizing force in the Mideast, does not fall, under pressure from the effects of Syria.
He also argued that the U.S. must work “to control the inevitable second war,” after the Assad regime falls, “between the majority of Syrians who want to move forward and live in peace and a small element of radical jihadists. And that conflict needs to be planned for and brought to an end.”
For his part Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., the ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, offered a more cautious assessment, saying that some additional verification on the use of chemical weapons might be needed.
“There realistically is probably some additional steps that need to be taken to verify,” he said. “There are indications the red line has been crossed and that is what this letter basically says.”
Corker stopped short of recommending next steps for U.S. intervention.
“It is probably important to ensure that what we think is the case, is the case,” he said. “We’ll see. I think a lot more serious and sober discussions now.”
He added later in a press release that he expects the president to consult with Congress before taking additional actions.
"Before the president takes any action to commit U.S. forces to any effort in Syria or elsewhere, I expect him to fully consult with the Senate and seek an authorization for the use of military force," Corker said.