Republican Senator John McCain led the revulsion and anger in Congress, saying it was now up to Obama to coordinate a response that prevents such weapons, including the agent sarin, from falling into the hands of terrorists or extremist groups.
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Obama “said that if Bashar Assad used chemical weapons, it would be a game-changer, that it would cross a red line. I think it’s pretty obvious that a red line has been crossed,” McCain told reporters.
“We have to have operational capability to secure these chemical weapon stocks,” he added. “We do not want them to fall into the wrong hands, and the wrong hands are a number of participants in the struggle that’s taking place in Syria.”
For months the veteran Republican has urged Obama to take a more pro-active role in the Syrian conflict and pressed him to help arm Syrian rebels and ensure safe havens in the country.
On Thursday he called for increased White House pressure on Russia and Iran to stop supplying weapons to Assad, and greater commitment to aid Syria’s rebel groups fighting Damascus.
Dead animals in Khan al-Assal. Rebels say they died from chemical agent (Photo: Reuters)
“The situation on the ground today is stalemate, with the Iranians and the Russians all in, and the United States of America gives them (Syrian rebels) flak jackets. That is not comforting when Scud missiles are hitting you.”
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Thursday that US intelligence has concluded "with some degree of varying confidence" that the Syrian government has used sarin gas as a weapon in its two-year-old civil war.
Following Hagel's comments, US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Capitol Hill that there were two instances of chemical weapons use.
People Damascus claims were injured in rebel chemical attack in Aleppo (Photo: EPA)
Democrat Dianne Feinstein, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, concurred that “red lines have been crossed” in Syria.
“Action must be taken to prevent larger scale use. Syria has the ability to kill tens of thousands with its chemical weapons,” she said in a statement.
“The world must come together to prevent this by unified action which results in the secure containment of Syria’s significant stockpile of chemical weapons.”
Man rebels claim was injured in chemical attack by Assad forces
Republican Howard “Buck” McKeon, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said Assad’s use of chemical weapons on the Syrian people, if true, is “an astounding violation of human rights,” and triggers a “national security imperative.”
Obama now has “a deep moral imperative” to act, McKeon said.
Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss said the chemical weapons revelation “changes the game.”
Asked what the next US step should be, Chambliss told AFP: “That’s for our military folks to tell us.”
Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida issued a statement urging US military action against the Assad regime.
“It’s clear the ‘red line’ drawn by President Obama has now been crossed. The time for passive engagement in this conflict must come to an end.
“It is in the vital national security interest of our nation to see Assad’s removal," Rubio continued. “He is Iran’s closest ally in the region and a tyrant who has been murdering his own people for more than two years, while threatening regional stability. We must not allow Assad to continue violating all international norms by using these vile weapons and allowing Syria to descend further into chaos and instability. This will have disastrous consequences for US interests for decades to come.
“I urge President Obama to explain to Congress and the American people how he will ensure Syria’s chemical and biological weapons stockpiles are secured, how we’ll work with our allies to prevent further use of these deadly weapons, and what additional measures he is ready to take to follow through on his previous statements,” the senator said.
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