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Pentagon Still Believes Assad Has Control of Syria’s Chemical Arsenal

• Spencer Ackerman via

There’s still no hard evidence about who caused the recent, deadly sarin gas attack in Syria. But the Pentagon’s “strong view at this point” is that dictator Bashar Assad maintains control of his chemical arsenal.

Pentagon spokesman George Little wouldn’t go into any specifics about the basis for that viewpoint, citing classified information. But Little said today that his “very strong belief” is that “if chemical weapons were used, it likely would have been used at the behest of the Syrian regime.” President Obama has said that use of chemical weapons would cross a “red line” in terms of U.S. intervention in the conflict, though an actual U.S. response has yet to be determined.

Little was echoing comments made Thursday by his boss, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, and the British defense chief that Assad still has control of the hundreds of metric tons of chemical weapons and their precursors in Syria. All that was occasioned by the White House’s acknowledgement on April 25 that as-yet-unknown parties used sarin gas in the bloody, two-year old conflict.

Except over the weekend, a member of the United Nations Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria, Carla Del Ponte, said that the chemical attack might have actually come from the Syrian rebels, not Assad. Del Ponte told a Swiss television station that she had “strong, concrete suspicions but not yet incontrovertible proof” that the rebels used sarin, based on victims’ testimony. This morning, however, the U.N. released a clarification that her inquiry “has not reached conclusive findings as to the use of chemical weapons in Syria by any parties to the conflict.”

Little read the U.N. clarification during a morning Pentagon briefing for reporters, and declined to follow up on it. “The United Nations is still continuing, as are we and other partners, to determine precisely what has happened in Syria with respect to chemical weapons,” Little said.

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