U.S. officials unsure whether chemical weapons used in Syria

Wed Mar 20, 2013 6:49pm EDT
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By Patricia Zengerle and Tabassum Zakaria

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. ambassador to Syria said on Wednesday there is no evidence so far to back reports that chemical weapons were used in Syria on Tuesday, but the United States has a large team investigating the issue.

"So far, we have no evidence to substantiate the reports that chemical weapons were used yesterday. But I want to underline that we are looking very carefully at these reports," Robert Ford, who was recalled from Damascus in February 2012, told a hearing of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee.

Meanwhile, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers told Reuters in an interview that there was a "high probability" that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces used chemical weapons.

If President Barack Obama's administration does not reach that same conclusion by next week it would be "troublesome," the Michigan Republican said, adding that his analysis was based on public and classified reports.

Another U.S. official said that Rogers and other top lawmakers on intelligence committees had been briefed by intelligence officials this week about whether chemical weapons were used in Syria. Rogers would not confirm that.

Assad's government and rebels accused each other of launching a deadly chemical attack near the northern city of Aleppo on Tuesday. Both sides demanded international investigations.

If confirmed, it would be the first use of such weapons in the two-year-old conflict.

Separately, U.S. and European officials told Reuters there was no confirmation that either side had used chemical weapons.   Continued...

United States Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford speaks to Reuters during the International Humanitarian Pledging Conference for Syria at Bayan Palace on the outskirts of Kuwait City January 30, 2013. REUTERS/Stephanie McGehee