Hagel: Evidence of chemical weapons use in Syria

(CNN) -- The United States has evidence that the chemical weapon sarin has been used in Syria on a small scale, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Thursday.

But numerous questions remain about the origins of the chemicals and what impact their apparent use could have on the ongoing Syrian civil war and international involvement in it.

When asked if the intelligence community's conclusion pushed the situation across President Barack Obama's "red line" that could potentially trigger more U.S. involvement in the Syrian civil war, Hagel said U.S. officials are still assessing the situation and need all the facts.

In a letter to lawmakers, the White House cautioned that given "the stakes involved and what we have learned from our own recent experience, intelligence assessments alone are not sufficient. Only credible and corroborated facts that provide us with some degree of certainty will guide our decision making."

Read Rodriguez's letter to Sen. Levin (.PDF)

The letter, sent to U.S. Sens. Carl Levin and John McCain, said that intelligence analysts have concluded "with varying degrees of confidence that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale in Syria, specifically the chemical agent sarin."

Hagel said that U.S. officials have not been able to confirm the origins of the sarin, but that they believe it originated with the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, which has been battling a rebellion for more than two years.

"The chain of custody is not clear, so we cannot confirm how the exposure occurred and under what conditions," the White House said in the letter.

Read the letter to Sen. McCain (.PDF)

The administration is "pressing for a comprehensive United Nations investigation that can credibly evaluate the evidence and establish what took place," according to the letter.

In response to the announcement, McCain urged the administration to work for the establishment of a safe zone for Syrian rebels.

"The president of the United States said that if Bashar Assad used chemical weapons that it would be a game changer, that it would cross a red line," McCain said. "I think it is pretty obvious that red line has been crossed."

The announcement comes a few days after an Israeli intelligence official said Damascus was using weapons banned under international law against its own people in the country's civil war.

Syria has said rebels have used chemical weapons.


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