National Security


Carney: White House can't rule out chemical weapons use in Syria

A man shout after a missile hits in a house in Aleppo, Syria / AP

The White House on Thursday again evaded direct questions about whether chemical weapons have been deployed in Syria.

White House press secretary Jay Carney would not deny definitively that chemical weapons were used in the city of Homs, despite claims made in a recent classified State Department cable that such weapons had been used.

Carney referred to the information in the cable as "anecdotal" and said that the State Department could not independently corroborate the information in the cable, which originated from a third-party source on the ground in Syria.

"The State Department addressed this issue yesterday. One of our diplomatic posts received anecdotal information from a third party regarding an alleged incident in Syria in December," Carney said during the White House press briefing.

"This information was relayed to the State Department in Washington. We looked into these allegations at the time we received the information and found no credible evidence to corroborate or confirm that chemical weapons were used," Carney said.

Foreign Policy magazine broke the news of the cable earlier this week and provided additional evidence that chemical weapons were likely used:

Activist and doctors on the ground in Homs have been circulating evidence of the Dec. 23 incident over the past three weeks in an attempt to convince the international community of its veracity. An Arabic-language report circulated by the rebels' Homs medical committee detailed the symptoms of several of the victims who were brought to a makeshift field hospital inside the city and claims that the victims suffered severe effects of inhaling poisonous gas.

Activists have also been circulating videos of the victims on YouTube and Facebook. In one of the videos, victims can be seen struggling for breath and choking on their own vomit. (More videos, which are graphic, can be found hereherehereherehere and here.)

Carney went on to say in Thursday’s briefing that the U.S. is "closely" monitoring the situation.

"We continue to closely monitor Syria's proliferation-sensitive materials and facilities and have been consistent and clear about our red lines regarding chemical weapons in Syria," Carney said. "As the president said, if the Assad regime makes the tragic mistake of using chemical weapons or fails to meet its obligation to secure them, they will be held accountable."

President Barack Obama has dubbed the use of chemical weapons by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as a "red line" that would force the U.S. to take action.

However, the White House’s continued refusal to acknowledge that reported use of chemical weapons could be an indication that those red lines are flexible.

It is difficult to verify the use of chemical weapons, particularly in Syria where the situation is consistently in flux.

While Carney maintained that the Foreign Policy report provided no "credible" evidence of a chemical weapons attack, he declined to elaborate on how the State Department made this determination.