Rep. Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said on Tuesday that there was a “high probability” that chemical weapons were used by President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria.
“I have a high probability to believe that chemical weapons were used,” the Michigan Republican told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. “We need that field verification.
“Given everything we’ve known over the last year-and-a-half, I, as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, have come to the conclusion that they are either positioned for use and ready to do that, or, in fact, have been used,” Rogers said.
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“We need to make sure,” Rogers added. “We need to make sure that this was chemical-weapons usage.”
He said that the United States had “limited efforts, very small, special capabilities” that could be used to “render their chemical weapons delivery systems not for use.
“If it takes a limited military strike to do that, I think we are morally obligated to do that if, in fact, they have crossed the president’s ‘red line’ of chemical weapons use,” Rogers said, referring to President Barack Obama’s previous warnings to Assad on using chemical weapons.
Meanwhile, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the Democrat who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in the same CNN interview, "I agree with the comments Chairman Rogers has made," though
she said a formal response should come from the White House. "It is serious, and it may well take some action," the California lawmaker acknowledged.
“We’ve heard this in a classified session,” Feinstein said. “This is highly classified information, and we’ve been advised to be very careful what we say. The White House has to make some decisions in this.
“The days are becoming more desperate,” she added. “The regime is becoming more desperate. We know where the chemical weapons are. It’s no secret that they’re there — and I think the probabilities are very high that we are near that time when the White House needs to be prepared.”
The United States said on Tuesday that it was evaluating allegations of chemical weapons use in Syria but dismissed charges that the opposition had used such weapons in the two-year-old conflict.
The Syrian government and rebels accused each other of launching a deadly chemical attack near the northern city of Aleppo.
“We are looking carefully at allegations of . . . chemical weapons use, we are evaluating them,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters.
“We have no evidence to substantiate the charge that the opposition has used chemical weapons,” he said.
“We are deeply skeptical of a regime that has lost all credibility and we would also warn the regime against making these kinds of charges as any kind of pretext or cover for its use of chemical weapons.”
The State Department echoed those comments and the Pentagon said it was monitoring the situation.
“I have no information at this time to corroborate any claims that chemical weapons have been used in Syria,” Pentagon spokesman George Little said. “The use of chemical weapons in Syria would be deplorable.”
Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina challenged the administration to follow through on prior warnings.
"If today's reports are substantiated, the president's red line has been crossed, and we would urge him to take immediate action to impose the consequences he has promised," they said in a statement reported by Fox News
"That should include the provision of arms to vetted Syrian opposition groups, targeted strikes against Assad's aircraft and SCUD missile batteries on the ground, and the establishment of safe zones inside Syria to protect civilians and opposition groups."
Their Democratic colleague, Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, also spoke of "ratcheting up of military effort" in response to the possible chemical attack.
"That would include going after some of Syria's air defenses," Levin told Foreign Policy's blog, The Cable
, adding that establishing a no-fly zone "would put additional pressure on Assad and also create a zone where Syrian people who are looking for protection and safety could come without crossing the border and becoming refugees."
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Carney reiterated that President Obama had said there would be consequences and that the Assad government would be held accountable if chemical weapons were used. Carney would not say what those consequences would entail.
The United States has been concerned that the Assad government would consider using chemical weapons as it becomes “increasingly beleaguered and finds its escalation of violence through conventional means inadequate," Carney said. "This is a serious concern."
He said the U.S. position is still that it is supplying only non-lethal aid to the Syrian opposition. "Our position is and remains that we are not supplying lethal assistance to the opposition," Carney said.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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