The White House on Monday continued to delay a response to the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons on opposition forces, saying the Obama administration is still waiting for corroborating evidence of intelligence reports citing small-scale episodes of chemical-agent exposure.
“We have to be sure about the case we’re making,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters Monday, noting that all options remain on the table for a response.
“What he never did — and it is simplistic to do so — is say, ‘If x happens, then y would happen,’” Mr. Carney said. ” … He has simply said he would consider it a red line that had been crossed and would take appropriate action … he’s looking at a range of options and he is not removing any possible action from the table.”
Mr. Carney also flatly refuted a report in the New York Times over the weekend that Mr. Obama shocked senior aides in August 2012 when he warned Syria publicly that using chemical weapons would cross a “red line.”
“The president’s use of the term ‘red line’ was deliberate and based on U.S. policy,” he said.
Citing anonymous Obama advisers, the Times on Saturday reported that the president’s warning was “unscripted” and rattled aides because it went further than they believed he would. The report quoted an aide trying to clarify what Mr. Obama meant by using the “red-line” term — that he was thinking of a chemical attack that would cause “mass fatalities, not relatively small-scale episodes like those now being investigated.”
“[The] nuance got completely dropped,’” the aide lamented in the piece.
On the record with the red-line warning months ago, Mr. Obama is under increasing pressure to respond to Syrian President Bashir Assad’s use of chemical weapons against rebels trying to remove him from power. The U.S. intelligence community concluded several weeks ago that Mr. Assad’s regime has likely done so — at least on a small scale.
Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, on Sunday ridiculed Mr. Obama’s inaction so far, saying the president’s “red-line” must have been written in “disappearing ink.”
Over the weekend, Israel launched an airstrike on a arms depot in the Syrian capital of Damascus that killed at least 42 Syria soldiers. Israel reportedly was worried that Syria would try to ship some high-tech weapons to Hezbollah fighters in Lebanon who could use them to strike Tel Aviv. On Monday, Mr. Carney defended Israel’s right to “take action” to protect itself.