The US and its allies are still trying to figure out details of Syria’s suspected use of chemical weapons against its own people, US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said on Monday, as international officials pressed for broader access to suspected attack sites.
Speaking to Pentagon reporters, Hagel refused to discuss any military options, including whether the US would be willing to take unilateral action against the Syrian regime or if the administration would act only in concert with allies.
US President Barack Obama’s administration said last week that US intelligence had concluded that Syrian government forces likely used chemical agents against rebels in two attacks, but that there were “varying degrees of confidence” about how large an attack it may have been.
Since then, the administration has come under criticism from members of US Congress demanding that Washington take steps to protect the Syrian people by setting up either a safe zone or a no-fly zone over at least parts of the country.
“We are continuing to assess what happened — when, where,” Hagel said. “I think we should wait to get the facts before we make any judgements on what action, if any, should be taken, and what kind of action.”
US officials, including US Secretary of State John Kerry, have said that chemical weapons — likely the nerve agent sarin — were used on two occasions.
Syria wants any investigation limited to an incident in the Khan al-Assal Village in Aleppo Province in March that reportedly killed 31 people, but UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon wants a broader investigation that would include an incident in Homs last year.
Britain, France, Israel and Qatar also believe chemical weapons have been used in Syria’s two-year-old civil war.
Obama has said that the use of chemical weapons by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, or their transfer to terrorists would have “enormous consequences.”