Former UN weapons inspector to White House: Know before you speak

A Syrian refugee chants anti-Bashar Assad slogans during a strike at Zaatari refugee camp, in Mafraq, Jordan, Thursday, April 25, 2013. About 500 refugees, carrying green, black and white opposition banners, demanded the international community set up buffer zones inside Syria and for resigned Syrian National Coalition president Mouaz al-Khatib to resume his post. (AP photo/Mohammad Hannon)
'We have to be careful'

Alicia Lozano | November 14, 2014 6:30 pm

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WASHINGTON – As the White House continues to closely monitor events in Syria, the former United Nations weapons inspector cautions the Obama administration against issuing potentially dangerous statements during this volatile time.

“We have to be careful and we have to be sure of this,” David Kay says. “And that probably means not issuing statements like this before you, in fact, have some information.”

On Thursday, U.S. officials said they have concluded “with varying degrees of confidence” that the Assad regime has repeatedly used chemical weapons against rebel forces.

Intelligence analysts think Syria has likely used a deadly nerve agent called sarin, which decays rapidly in the sun or heat and can be difficult to trace Kay says.

“Quite frankly, the further you are from the event, the harder it becomes” to determine if sarin was used, he says.

It might be possible to trace how the chemical was delivered – whether through artillery, rockets or bombs, for example – but finding who ordered the attack or who executed it can be tricky.

“And that’s a very interesting question and quite important,” he says.

Last week, President Barack Obama warned his Syrian counterpart, President Bashar al-Assad, against crossing a “red line” by using chemical or biological warfare in the civil war that has already killed more than 20,000 people. If that line is crossed, it could provoke a U.S. military response, Obama says.

Because the stakes are so high, Kay says the White House should be careful about how much stock it places in unconfirmed reports.

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