The United States needs more facts before it can say whether Syria used chemical weapons that opposition forces say killed hundreds near Damascus, but it's certainly possible, former U.S. Ambassador John Bolton says.
"The Assad regime is capable of it. They've used chemical weapons before," Bolton said on "The Steve Malzberg Show" on Newsmax TV.
Syrian opposition forces claim that from 100 to 800 people were killed when government forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad carried out a cold-blooded attack, firing rockets fitted with "poisonous gas heads." The Syrian government vehemently denied the charge.
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Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, says that, indeed, it is doubtful whether poison gas was used on this occasion.
"In this case, Syria negotiated for months and months with the United Nations to keep [an] inspection team out. … They dragged it out so the trail would go cold," Bolton said.
"Now, at the very moment a U.N. inspection team arrives in Syria, it would be an act of utter stupidity for the Syrian government actually to use chemical weapons. But … we need more facts."
Bolton, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, said another reason to doubt such an attack is the close monitoring of Syria by Russia.
"We've also had indications [Russia considers] this news … as propaganda," he said.
"My guess is … the Russians are making sure that nothing really significant happens."
He added the U.N. Security Council will likely issue a statement that condemns the use of chemical weapons, but will "say nothing and mean nothing, and that could well be the end of it from the U.N. perspective."
On Wednesday's sentencing of U.S. Army Private Bradley Manning to 35 years behind bars for leaking classified documents to WikiLeaks, Bolton called the punishment much too lenient.
"It's disgraceful. … The harm that Bradley Manning caused is enormous," Bolton said.
"This is a slap on the wrist. He's already been in jail for about three years and I'm sure that before the end of the Obama administration, you're going to hear calls to give him a pardon."
He said Manning, despite his crimes, has more grit than former National Security Agency secrets leaker Edward Snowden, who is now a fugitive from justice in Russia.
"At least [Manning] stood trial for what he did. Edward Snowden, the other famous leaker, of course, is hiding out in Russia. He claims he was a whistleblower, too. He claims he had higher motives," Bolton said.
"Well, if he had any guts, he'd come back and do what Bradley Manning did, at least, which was put himself in front of a court and try and defend his actions."
Bolton also urged the United States not to cut off financial aid to Egypt, which is near civil war after the Egyptian military ousted President Mohammed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood.
"I would very much oppose cutting off aid, although that's the direction the Obama administration is moving," he said.
"Egyptians read this very clearly. They see the Obama administration as being on the side of the Muslim Brotherhood. If [they] … think that we support the brotherhood, they'll react accordingly and that will harm American interests, unfortunately."
Bolton said it is critical for the White House to understand the Muslim Brotherhood is not a political party as the term is perceived in the United States.
"It's an armed theology. It's a militia group. It doesn't play by normal political rules. When they had control of the Egyptian government under President Mohammed Morsi, they were conducting a creeping coup d'etat against everybody else in Egypt," he said.
"[The brotherhood] is not going to accept the legitimacy of any Egyptian government they don't control.
"America's interests lie in a secure and stable Egyptian government that upholds the Camp David Accords, keeps the Suez Canal open, and keeps the Sinai from being a highway for terrorists. So that points in only one direction, and that's to continue military aid and continue to try and use our influence in Egypt."
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