Obama orders Syria 'gas attack' inquiry

US president is facing pressure to act against Assad's government in wake of alleged chemical attacks near Damascus.

    US President Barack Obama has ordered US intelligence to urgently probe claims that Syrian forces launched a chemical attack on civilians, including children, aides said.

    The Obama administration is facing rising political pressure for a tough response to the attack, which could have again infringed US "red lines" against chemical weapons use by President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

    "Right now, we are unable to conclusively determine CW [chemical weapons] use," State Department spokesman Jen Psaki said on Thursday.

    But she said the administration had been focused continually since reports of the attack broke on Wednesday on efforts to "nail down the facts".

    "If these reports are true, it would be an outrageous and flagrant escalation of [the] use of chemical weapons by the regime," Psaki said.

    Officials said they could not yet be sure the deadly arms had killed as many as 1,300 people outside Damascus, even though US ally France said it was likely they were used.

    'Outrageous escalation'

    The United States held a series of diplomatic talks on Thursday to discuss possible new action against the Syrian government amid mounting international concern over alleged chemical weapons attacks.

    John Kerry, the US secretary of state, discussed the episode with key counterparts, including Syria's main opposition leader Ahmad Assi Jarba and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius.

    Kerry also called top officials at the EU, the UN and in Jordan, Qatar and Turkey.

    France warns Syria of forceful response

    Obama has a range of options at his disposal and would discuss a response with his top national security aides, Psaki said.

    The president has been loath to order US military action to protect civilians in Syria, fearing being drawn into a vicious civil war, just soon after he extracted US troops from Iraq.

    But revulsion over video footage and photos of dead children blanketing the US media has reopened the debate about a policy Obama allies see as prudent but critics brand as weak.

    The White House concluded earlier this year that Syria had crossed Obama's red line against the use of chemical weapons, but opted not to take military action.

    Instead, it decided to directly arm selected Syrian rebel groups battling Assad - but has declined to publicly specify the extent of the support.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


    YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

    How different voting systems work around the world

    How different voting systems work around the world

    Nearly two billion voters in 52 countries around the world will head to the polls this year to elect their leaders.

    How Moscow lost Riyadh in 1938

    How Moscow lost Riyadh in 1938

    Russian-Saudi relations could be very different today, if Stalin hadn't killed the Soviet ambassador to Saudi Arabia.

    The great plunder: Nepal's stolen treasures

    The great plunder: Nepal's stolen treasures

    How the art world's hunger for ancient artefacts is destroying a centuries-old culture. A journey across the Himalayas.