A secret State Department cable has concluded that the Syrian military likely used chemical weapons against its own people in a deadly attack last month.
United States diplomats in Turkey conducted a previously undisclosed, intensive investigation into claims that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons, and made what an Obama administration official who reviewed the cable called a "compelling case" that Assad's military forces had used a deadly form of poison gas.
The cable, signed by the US consul general in Istanbul, Scott Frederic Kilner, and sent to State Department headquarters in Washington last week, outlined the results of the consulate's investigation into reports from inside Syria that chemical weapons had been used in the city of Homs on Dec. 23.
The consul general's report followed a series of interviews with activists, doctors, and defectors, in what the administration official said was one of the most comprehensive efforts the US government has made to investigate claims by internal Syrian sources. The investigation included a meeting between the consulate staff and Mustafa al-Sheikh, a high-level defector who once was a major general in Assad's army and key official in the Syrian military's WMD program.
An Obama administration official who reviewed the document, which was classified at the "secret" level, detailed its contents. "We can't definitely say 100 percent, but Syrian contacts made a compelling case that Agent 15 was used in Homs on Dec. 23," the official said.
The use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime would cross the "red line" President Barack Obama first established in an Aug. 20 statement. "We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus. That would change my equation," Obama said.
To date, the administration has not initiated any major policy changes in response to the classified cable, but a Deputies Committee meeting of top administration officials is scheduled for this week.
The report confirms the worst fears of officials who are frustrated by the current policy, which is to avoid any direct military assistance to the Syrian rebels and limit US aid to sporadic deliveries of humanitarian and communications equipment.
Many believe that Assad is testing US red lines.
"This reflects the concerns of many in the US government that the regime is pursuing a policy of escalation to see what they can get away with as the regime is getting more desperate," the administration official said.
The consulate's investigation was facilitated by BASMA, an NGO the State Department has hired as one of its implementing partners inside Syria. BASMA connected consular officials with witnesses to the incident and other first-hand information.
The official warned that if the US government does not react strongly to the use of chemical weapons in Homs, Assad may be emboldened to escalate his use of such weapons of mass destruction.
"It's incidents like this that lead to a mass-casualty event," the official said.
READ FULL SOURCE ARTICLE: 01/15/2013
Editor's Note: But let's have a meeting to form a committee to study whether a panel should decide whether a task force should be put together to advise the President on whether to take this issue to the United Nations, right Mr. President? Maybe the whole thing will blow over by then and you can continue to avoid having to put our money where your mouth is when you shoot it off...
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