Early afternoon on Friday, White House press secretary Jay Carney said that the administration has a number of options in regards to handling reports that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has used chemical weapons, and those routes include but are not exclusive to using military force.
Fielding a question from the media during the afternoon presser, Carney said that he could not speculate on what action if any Pres. Obama will pursue against Assad, but said “as a general principal the United States retains the ability to act unilaterally.”
Pres. Obama spoke to reporters hours later about the allegations during a meeting with Jordan’s King Abdullah in the Oval Office, calling the developments a “game changer” in terms of how the US might respond.
“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,” Obama said.
“That is going to be a game changer. We have to act prudently. We have to make these assessments deliberately. But I think all of us … recognize how we cannot stand by and permit the systematic use of weapons like chemical weapons on civilian populations.”
Just one day earlier, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said that the US intelligence community determined “with varying degrees of confidence that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons.” The White House sent a letter to members of the US Senate that morning informing lawmakers that Pres. Assad is believed to have used the odorless liquid sarin on at least two occasions.
“Thus far, we believe that the Assad regime maintains custody of these weapons, and has demonstrated a willingness to escalate its horrific use of violence against the Syrian people,” the letter read in part.
Following up on Friday, Carney said, “We still believe based on the information that we have that the stockpiles of chemical weapons in Syria are under control of the Syrian regime.”
“Because of that, Assad is responsible for the disposition of those chemical weapons and it is his responsibility first and foremost not to use them or to transport them to terrorist groups, but to secure them and make sure they aren’t used by anyone else.”
“That’s all I can really say about it. That’s our assessment at this time,” said Carney, adding that the Obama administration is working with allies and partners, including the United Nations and Sthe yrian opposition, to gather credible facts to corroborate earlier reports.