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U.S. to release evidence against Assad within days

  • Article by: Karen DeYoung and Anne Gearan
  • Washington Post
  • August 27, 2013 - 10:02 PM

– The Obama administration believes that U.S. intelligence has established how Syrian government forces stored, assembled and launched the chemical weapons allegedly used in last week’s attack outside Damascus, according to U.S. officials.

The administration is planning to release evidence, possibly as soon as Thursday, that it will say proves that Syrian President Bashar Assad bears responsibility for what U.S. officials have called an “undeniable” chemical attack that killed hundreds on the outskirts of the Syrian capital.

The report, being compiled by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, is one of the final steps that the administration is taking before President Obama makes a decision on a U.S. military strike against Syria, which now appears all but inevitable.

‘We are ready to go’

“We are prepared,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told the BBC on Tuesday. “We have moved assets in place to be able to fulfill and comply with whatever option the president wishes to take. We are ready to go.” The assets include four cruise-missile-armed destroyers in the Mediterranean.

The timing of such a military response is being dictated by the need not only to assemble incontrovertible evidence against Assad — an important prerequisite for the administration, and the country, given the recent memories of a war based on false claims of weapons of mass destruction — but also to allow consultation with Congress and international partners.

Britain, France and Turkey have indicated willingness to contribute to military action. The administration is weighing the importance of direct international participation in an effort that U.S. forces are prepared to undertake themselves.

The safety of United Nations experts who are in Syria investigating the chemical weapons allegations is also an issue, said a senior administration official.

One question that is unlikely to be addressed in the intelligence report is why Assad would launch such a massive chemical strike in the face of a near-certain international response. It is a question that Russia, Assad’s principal international backer, has raised repeatedly in suggesting that Syrian rebels arranged the attack to implicate the government.

‘I challenge them’

In a telephone call Tuesday with British Prime Minister David Cameron, Russian President Vladimir Putin said his government “did not have evidence of whether a chemical weapons attack had taken place, or who was responsible,” a statement on Cameron’s official website said.

The Obama administration has rejected the possibility of rebel culpability, asserting that only the government has possession of the weapons and the rockets to deliver them. But others have speculated that the lack of an international response to the earlier, much smaller alleged chemical attacks may have emboldened Assad; that government forces last week may have mistakenly mixed the chemicals to a higher concentration than intended; or that areas with a high density of civilians may have been mistakenly targeted.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Mouallem said that charges of chemical weapons use by the government are “categorically baseless,” according to the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency, and that Syria was committed to facilitating the U.N. inspection. “We all hear the drums of war around us,” Mouallem said. “If they want to attack Syria, I think that using the lie of chemical weapons is fake and not accurate, and I challenge them to show evidence.”

© 2014 Star Tribune