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“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 and strengthen our leadership of the international community,” Miguel Rodriguez, director of the White House’s office of legislative affairs, wrote Thursday to McCain and Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., in a clear reference to the intelligence failures that preceded the 2003 Iraq War.
Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, expressed his support for Obama’s efforts to confirm Syria’s use of chemical weapons,but criticized the president’s reliance on the United Nations, a popular target among Republicans. He also joined other Republicans in demanding that Obama explain how he planned to deal with Syria.
“After two years of brutal conflict, it’s past time for the President to have a robust conversation with the Congress and the American people about how best to bring Assad’s tyranny to an end,” he said in a written statement.
According to the White House letter describing its chemical weapons findings, the “chain of custody” of the evidence tested is not clear, meaning that intelligence officials cannot confirm how the exposure occurred and under what conditions.
“We do believe that any use of chemical weapons in Syria would very likely have originated with the Assad regime,” Rodriguez wrote. “Thus far, we believe that the Assad regime maintains custody of these weapons and has demonstrated a willingness to escalate its horrific use of violence against the Syrian people.”
The White House letter informing lawmakers of Syria’s likely use of chemical weapons came in response to a written request Wednesday from McCain, Levin and several other lawmakers for the administration’s assessment of chemical weapons use during Syria’s two-year civil war. Britain, France and, most recently, Israel have concluded that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons against insurgents seeking to topple his authoritarian regime.
Humberto Sanchez, Megan Scully and Sarah Chacko contributed to this report.