ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – U.S. intelligence agencies now believe that Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime has used chemical weapons in its struggle to hold onto power, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Thursday.
Hagel said that the White House sent a letter to members of Congress on Thursday morning disclosing that intelligence agencies had made that assessment, which followed a series of similar conclusions reached by Britain, France and most recently Israel.
“The U.S. intelligence community assesses with varying degrees of confidence that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale in Syria, specifically the chemical agent sarin,” Hagel told reporters in Abu Dhabi, where he was wrapping up a weeklong Mideast trip that has been dominated by questions over Syria’s alleged chemical weapons use.
A day earlier, Hagel said that U.S. intelligence agencies were studying the issue and would not rush to make a determination. President Obama has termed the use of chemical weapons a “red line” that could trigger military intervention to secure Syria’s large stockpile of chemical weapons, a move that few U.S. officials are eager to make.