U.S. intelligence officials are looking into fresh chemical-strike reports emerging from civil-war-torn Syria, among them an August incident said to have taken place northeast of Damascus, insiders told Foreign Policy magazine for a Monday report.
Allegations of chemical-weapons use have fallen significantly in quantity since early June, around the time that government forces seized Qusair in a key military win for President Bashar Assad’s regime. U.S. officials see the recent drop-off in attacks, once the government had obtained the upper hand in the conflict, as a sign that it likely was responsible for unleashing chemicals earlier, when Assad’s military was seen to be losing battles.
President Obama last year said any use of Syria’s large chemical arsenal would breach a “red line” and could force a strong U.S. response.
One U.S. intelligence official said, though, that “as long as they keep body count at a certain level, we won’t do anything.”
The insiders added that they reportedly are monitoring ongoing transfers near Khan Abu Shamat and other major chemical-weapons storehouses overseen by Assad’s forces.
Meanwhile, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Monday said international investigators had launched an on-the-ground assessment of three incidents of alleged chemical arms use in Syria. The effort would continue for at least two weeks and could “be extended by mutual consent,” he said in a statement to reporters.
“The mission must have full access to the sites of the alleged incidents,” the U.N. chief stated. “This includes access to the reported sites to undertake the necessary analyses and to collect samples. It also includes interviews and examination of witnesses, victims, attending medical personnel as well as the conduct of postmortem examinations.”
He noted, though, that wartime conditions would “undoubtedly affect the mission’s activities.”
“If confirmed, the use of chemical weapons by any side under any circumstances must be held accountable and would constitute an international crime,” he added.
The prime minister of neighboring Jordan on Monday said his government is boosting chemical-warfare readiness near its border with Syria, in part by ramping up its armed-forces presence in the area.
“It is our duty to protect our citizens, border villages and particularly the Zaatari refugee camp” against any Syrian chemical arms, Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour said in comments reported by Deutsche Presse-Agentur.
What We're Following See More »
Donald Trump went on a Twitter rampage Sunday morning, promising a 35 percent tariff on goods imported by businesses that leave America. Not so fast, say Republican leaders in Congress. "I don’t want to get into some kind of trade war," said House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a comment later reiterated by Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, who instead called for overhaul of corporate taxes instead of a punitive tax.
Former Vice President Al Gore found himself in a room with Donald Trump Monday just after meeting with Trump's daughter, Ivanka. Gore discussed the topic of climate change with both Trumps and called his discussion with Donald Trump "extremely interesting." It remains to be seen if Donald Trump will deal with the topic of climate change during his presidency.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy told reporters on Monday that the government funding bill will be released on Tuesday. The bill is the last piece of legislation Congress needs to pass before leaving for the year and is expected to fund the government through the spring. The exact time date the bill would fund the government through is unclear, though it is expected to be in April or May.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser is making the pilgrimage to Trump Tower tomorrow, where she and Chief of Staff John Falchiccio and Senior Adviser Beverly Perry will meet with President-elect Donald Trump. In a statement, she said she'd be discussing "DC’s growth and common areas of interest."
As has been rumored for a week, Donald Trump will nominate Ben Carson, his former rival, to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development. In a statement, Trump said, "We have talked at length about my urban renewal agenda and our message of economic revival, very much including our inner cities. Ben shares my optimism about the future of our country and is part of ensuring that this is a Presidency representing all Americans. He is a tough competitor and never gives up."