Early Western Intel: Assad Used Chemical Arms

Global Security Newswire Staff
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Global Security Newswire Staff
Aug. 23, 2013, 11:02 a.m.

Early U.S. and European in­tel­li­gence find­ings in­dic­ate that Syr­i­an Pres­id­ent Bashar As­sad’s re­gime car­ried out a chem­ic­al strike near Dam­as­cus on Wed­nes­day, prob­ably with back­ing from seni­or lead­ers, Re­u­ters re­por­ted.

Rus­sia on Fri­day joined oth­er na­tions call­ing for a U.N. team now in Syr­ia to in­vest­ig­ate the al­leged as­sault that might have killed hun­dreds of people, the As­so­ci­ated Press re­por­ted.

U.N. Sec­ret­ary Gen­er­al Ban Ki-moon has dis­patched a top dis­arm­a­ment of­fi­cial to the Syr­i­an cap­it­al to form­ally re­quest ac­cess to the scene of the al­leged at­tack, ac­cord­ing to a Thursday re­lease.

The claims “need to be in­vest­ig­ated without delay,” his of­fice said in a state­ment. Speak­ing on Fri­day, Ban said “it’s a mat­ter of time when we will par­ti­cip­ate (in the Syr­i­an in­cid­ent),” the Xin­hua News Agency re­por­ted. The U.N. chief was to meet on Fri­day with of­fi­cials from the United King­dom, and top en­voys from the United States and Qatar also would par­ti­cip­ate in talks, Brit­ish For­eign Min­is­ter Wil­li­am Hag­ue said in com­ments re­por­ted by Re­u­ters.

Pres­id­ent Obama in an in­ter­view aired Fri­day told CNN that Wash­ing­ton of­fi­cials “don’t ex­pect co­oper­a­tion” from of­fi­cials in Bashar As­sad’s gov­ern­ment.”

Mo­scow, though, ac­cused en­emies of Bashar As­sad’s gov­ern­ment of re­fus­ing “to guar­an­tee the safety and ef­fect­ive work of U.N. ex­perts on [rebel] ter­rit­ory,” Re­u­ters re­por­ted. The op­pos­i­tion in the coun­try’s civil war “is dir­ectly pre­vent­ing an ob­ject­ive in­vest­ig­a­tion in­to the pos­sible use of chem­ic­al weapons in Syr­ia,” ac­cord­ing to writ­ten com­ments re­leased by the Rus­si­an For­eign Min­istry.

The West­ern-backed Syr­i­an Na­tion­al Co­ali­tion later said it would “en­sure the safety of the U.N. team,” the wire ser­vice re­por­ted sep­ar­ately.

“It is crit­ic­al that those in­spect­ors get there with­in 48 hours,” spokes­man Khaled Saleh said.

More than 30 na­tions have called for the U.N. in­vest­ig­a­tion to ex­pand its on-the-ground probe — launched on Monday to re­view past chem­ic­al at­tack claims — to in­clude the latest al­leg­a­tions, USA Today re­por­ted. Syr­i­an rebels have at­trib­uted 800 to 1,700 deaths to Wed­nes­day’s in­cid­ent.

In­de­pend­ent ana­lyses ap­peared to be co­ales­cing around a view that the event in­volved sar­in or an­oth­er nerve agent, the Lon­don Guard­i­an re­por­ted. Neigh­bor­ing gov­ern­ments and West­ern powers are ex­pec­ted with­in days to ob­tain ma­ter­i­als taken from the site of the al­leged at­tack, ac­cord­ing to the news­pa­per.

In his re­marks to CNN, Obama said a chem­ic­al strike “starts get­ting to some core na­tion­al in­terests that the United States has, both in terms of us mak­ing sure that weapons of mass de­struc­tion are not pro­lif­er­at­ing, as well as need­ing to pro­tect our al­lies, our bases in the re­gion.”

He ad­ded, though, that “if the U.S. goes in and at­tacks an­oth­er coun­try without a U.N. man­date and without clear evid­ence that can be presen­ted, then there are ques­tions in terms of wheth­er in­ter­na­tion­al law sup­ports it [and] do we have the co­ali­tion to make it work.”

The need for crit­ic­al U.S. choices on Syr­ia has grown more ur­gent, Obama in­dic­ated in the CNN in­ter­view. The De­fense De­part­ment as of Thursday was re­vis­ing op­tions for pos­sible air at­tacks against Syr­i­an armed forces fa­cil­it­ies and oth­er sites con­trolled by As­sad, the Wall Street Journ­al re­por­ted.

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