Syria Agrees to U.N. Chemical Attack Investigation, Warns U.S. Not to Intervene
Syrian government officials agreed Sunday to allow the United Nations to conduct an investigation into Wednesday's chemical weapons attack, while also warning the U.S. that military intervention would have "dangerous consequences."
The Syrian foreign ministry broadcast a statement on state television Sunday, saying it had reached an agreement with the U.N.'s top disarmament chief, Angela Kane, who arrived in the country Saturday.
"The foreign minister affirmed Syria's desire to cooperate with the team of inspectors to unmask the falsehood of the allegations by terrorist groups that Syrian forces used chemical weapons in the eastern Ghouta," the Syrian official said.
The Syrian government remains adamant that the attack was carried out by rebel groups. An army statement late Saturday reiterated the claim, saying, "these gangs are using chemical weapons against our people and soldiers with help from foreign sides."
But the regime's move may have come too late in the game to be convincing.
"If the Syrian government had nothing to hide and wanted to prove to the world that it had not used chemical weapons in this incident, it would have ceased its attacks on the area and granted immediate access to the U.N.— five days ago," a senior U.S. official said. "At this juncture, the belated decision by the regime to grant access to the U.N. team is too late to be credible."
"Based on the reported number of victims, reported symptoms of those who were killed or injured, witness accounts, and other facts gathered by open sources, the US intelligence community, and international partners, there is very little doubt at this point that a chemical weapon was used by the Syrian regime against civilians in this incident," the official added.
Meanwhile, Syria's Information Minister, Omran Zoabi, has warned that any military moves on the part of the U.S. could have dire ramifications.
"The basic repercussion would be a ball of fire that would burn not only Syria but the whole Middle East," Zoabi said in an interview.
"The military intervention in Syria has proved to be a weak case because Syria is still a strong state. It has institutions, an army," he added. "It has friends and allies in the region [...] If the US leads a military intervention this will have dangerous consequences, it will bring chaos."
And according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll taken August 19-23, Americans aren't too keen on military intervention either. Roughly 60 percent of those surveyed said that Obama shouldn't get involved in the Syrian civil war — only 25 percent would support intervention, even if it was proven that the Syrian government was behind the chemical assault.
On Saturday, President Obama met with top security aides to discuss the range of options available, should he choose to respond militarily to the chemical attack, speaking also to British Prime Minister David Cameron via telephone later in the day.
Cameron's office released a statement following the conversation, saying that the heads of state had "reiterated that significant use of chemical weapons would merit a serious response from the international community and both have tasked officials to examine all the options."