Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel called for restraint Monday in deciding whether the U.S. should take military action in Syria’s civil war over the alleged use of chemical weapons by the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
“We’re continuing to assess what happened,” Hagel said of the charges by Syrian rebels and several allies that Assad’s forces used sarin nerve gas. “I think we should wait to get the facts.”
At the United Nations, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon renewed his previous appeal to Assad to allow UN chemical weapons experts into the country for on-site inspections to “establish the facts and clear up all the doubts” on the alleged use of the banned weapons.
Last month, Assad invited the UN to investigate his claim that the rebels attacked his forces on March 19 near Aleppo with chemical weapons.
The Syrian opposition has charged that Assad’s forces used sarin against them in battles in Aleppo, Damascus, and Homs.
Last week the Obama administration told Congress that U.S. intelligence agencies with varying degrees of certainty believe that sarin may have been used by Syrian government forces “on a small scale.” The White House added that it could not confirm how the exposure occurred and under what conditions.
President Obama has warned that Assad’s use of chemical weapons would be a “red line” that, if crossed, would require a U.S. response. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and other Republicans have now been demanding that he take military action.
McCain has called for arming the rebels and airstrikes against Assad’s military, but he has stopped short of advocating an intervention by U.S. troops.
“The American people are wary. They don’t want boots on the ground. I don’t want boots on the ground,” McCain said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “The worst thing the United States could do right now is put boots on the ground in Syria.”
In other developments in Damascus Monday, Syrian Prime Minister Wael al-Halki narrowly escaped a car bomb that targeted his convoy as it moved through an upper-class neighborhood. State television said al-Halki was unharmed in the blast that killed nine people.