WASHINGTON — The Obama administration hopes its decision to give lethal aid to Syrian rebels will prompt other nations to beef up assistance, now that the U.S. has cited evidence that the Syrian government used chemical weapons against its people. But the international reaction Friday ranged from flat-out disbelief of the U.S. intelligence assessments to calls for negotiation before more weapons pour into the vicious civil war.
The administration now says it has “high confidence” that President Bashar Assad’s forces have killed up to 150 people with sarin gas. Although that’s a tiny percentage of the approximately 93,000 killed in the civil war so far, the use of a chemical weapon crosses President Barack Obama’s “red line” for escalating U.S. involvement in the conflict and prompted the decision to send arms and ammunition, not just humanitarian aid and defensive non-lethal help like armored vests and night goggles.
The administration’s plan heading into the G8 meeting of industrialized nations beginning Monday is to use the chemical weapons announcement and Obama’s decision on arms to persuade Russia to increase pressure on Assad to send a credible negotiating team to Geneva for talks with the opposition.
In addition, Obama is expected to use the G8 meeting and discussions on the sidelines to further coordinate with the British, French and potentially others an increase of assistance — lethal, non-lethal and humanitarian — to the rebels, the political opposition and refugees.
In a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice said the United States has determined that sarin was used in a March 19 attack on the Aleppo suburb of Khan al-Assal and in an April 13 attack on the neighborhood of Shaykh Maqsud. She said unspecified chemicals, possibly including chemical warfare agents, were used May 14 in an attack on Qasr Abu Samrah and in a May 23 attack on Adra.