White House spokesman Josh Earnest refused repeatedly Wednesday to say that President Obama shares Secretary of State John Kerry’s certainty that Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad had used chlorine gas to mass murder his own people.
In Tuesday's State Department press conference, Kerry said the U.S. was "absolutely certain" that Assad’s regime used chlorine gas to attack Syrian civilians. The Obama administration has not listed chlorine gas as a chemical weapon but has maintained that it has the same properties of chemical weapons. The Free Beacon reports:
Secretary of State John Kerry said on Monday the United States is "absolutely certain" the Syrian regime is responsible for chlorine gas attacks on civilians.
President Obama has maintained in the past that chlorine bombs "have the effect of chemical weapons" but are not themselves chemical weapons. Obama also said chemical weapons have not "historically" been listed as chemical weapons. These claims helped justify his decision not to intervene in the war-torn country.
This decision has been called into question by the Syrian regime’s indiscriminate bombing of urban areas with chlorine barrel bombs.
It is also possible the regime has maintained stockpiles of Sarin and VX despite its pledge to disclose and destroy those chemicals, a promise that averted U.S. intervention in 2013.
During Wednesday’s briefing, CBS reporter Major Garrett asked twice if the White House shared Kerry's certainty that chlorine gas had been recently used in Syria.
"The president would rely on both the input from the Secretary of State as well as the assessments from the intelligence community, as well as assessments from the Department of Defense," Earnest said.
Garrett asked even if Obama was certain about Syria’s use of chlorine gas that it still would not change his stance on it not being listed as a chemical weapon. Earnest was adamant that all declared chemical weapons had been removed from the war-torn country and destroyed.
Earnest called the use of chlorine weapons consistent with the reports that the White House received from the intelligence community but he would not label it a chemical weapon. Earnest added that the president and his intelligence team are constantly reviewing and updating their policies.