Sen. Dianne Feinstein reacted to White House confirmation that forces loyal to Syria President Bashar Assad have used chemical weapons on their own people by urging the United Nations Security Council to take "strong and meaningful action" to end the crisis in Syria.
Mrs. Feinstein, California Democrat who chairs the Intellience Committee and has had a powerful influence on elements of Obama's foreign policy, said the red line that President Obama set down on the Syrian regime's use of chemical weapons has been crossed, and the United States and rest of the international community must forcefully respond.
"It is clear that 'red lines' have been crossed and action must be taken to prevent larger-scale use," she said in a statement. "Syria has the ability to kill tens of thousands with its chemical weapons. The world must come togethr to prevent this by unified action that results in the secure containment of Syria's significant stockpile of chemical weapons."
If the the U.S. and its allies do not act, Mrs. Feinstein expressed deep concern that Mr. Assad could calculate that he has nothing more to lose and could further escalate his attacks on the Syrian opposition.
"It is also important that the world understands that the use of weapons of mass destruction, such as sarin, will not be countenanced, and clearly Assad must go," she said, noting that intelligence officials had briefed her and the rest of her panel Thursday about Syria's chemical weapons use.
Earlier Thursday, the White House publicly released a carefully worded letter it sent to senators, confirming that the U.S. intelligence community has assessed "with varying degrees of confidence" that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale in Syria, specifically the chemical agent sarin.
The letter, signed by Miguel E. Rodriguez, who head sthe Obama administration's Office of Legislative Affairs, says only that the assessment was "based in part on physiological samples."
The public acknowledgement of chemical use in Syria follows similar cliams made in recent days by authorities in Israel, France and Britain. The development is likely to draw the United States into the Syria's civil war in a more aggressive way.
Presdient Obama has so far resisted calls by some Republicans in Congress to use lethal forces against the Assad regime, though it has provided more than hundreds of million of dollars in humanitarian and non-lethal assistance to the opposition, and has sent additional funds to border states to help deal with Syrian refugees flooding out of the country.
But Mr. Obama has said the U.S. would view the use of chemical weapons in the conflict as a "red line" – even though he and others in the administration have declined to say what action the U.S. would take if Mr. Assad crossed it.
White House officials Thursday said they aren't comfortable with taking action based on the intelligence assessments they have so far and are still attempting to gather corroborating material to precisely determine how and where the chemical agents were deployed.
Pointing to controversial intelligence assessments on weapons of mass destruction that the Bush administration used to justify invading Iraq, a White House official told reporters Thursday that U.S. intelligence agencies are working to corrborate initial reports of chemical weapons use in a comprehensive, thorough way given "the high stakes and how serious the situation is."
When asked if Mr. Obama's red line had been crossed, the official said the U.S. is still working to corroborate that information "to have firm evidence" when consulting with allies and countries in the region to determine a response.
"If we reach a definitive determination that the red line has been crossed, we will be consulting with our allies...to determine the best course of action," the White House official said, stressing that all response options remain on the table.
"President Assad and those around him should now that the U.S. is [closely monitoring the matter]...and ultimately, if it is established in a credible and confirmable way...we do believe that President Assad is accountable for that action," the official said.
The official declined to discuss specific aspects of the assessment about the chemical weapons – or any details about the evidence they uncovered so far. Instead, he said the U.S. military has contingency plans at the ready for "different scenarios in Syria" and is in close consultation with the British, the French, as well as countries in the region, including Turkey and Jordan.
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