Evidence Points To Chemical Weapon Use In Syria

While the use of chemical weapons by Syria's government forces remains officially unproven, many analysts say there are strong signs indicating their use. Host Rachel Martin talks with Gary Samore, a former White House coordinator for arms control and weapons of mass destruction, about how the claims are being evaluated.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

You heard him mention his concerns about a possible chemical weapons attack last week outside Damascus. U.N. inspectors are being allowed to visit the sites in question tomorrow. Gary Samore worked in the Obama White House as the coordinator for arms control and weapons of mass destruction. He explains that once inspectors arrive on site, they'll work to figure out what substance was used.

GARY SAMORE: At this point, I think most people are operating under the assumption that it was sarin, which is the nerve gas that the Syrian government has used in the past in much more limited attacks. But until those samples are analyzed, and I would think that would take a week, maybe two weeks, we won't really know for sure what substance was used. Of course, that won't necessarily determine in a definitive way who used the substance, and the Russian government has already accused the opposition of using it as a provocation. But as far as I can tell, the opposition doesn't have access to chemical weapons. And certainly in the last round, they U.S. government asserted that only the Syrian government had access to these weapons and therefore it's much more likely that if they were used, they were used by the Syrian government.

MARTIN: If the use of chemical weapons is confirmed, how does that affect the Obama administration's calculus when it comes to Syria?

SAMORE: I think the primary motivation for the president has been his deep desire to try to avoid getting dragged into another conflict. At the same time, he and others have identified chemical weapon use as a redline. We've clearly called for President Assad to leave. So, the administration is really stuck in a dilemma. So, the last time the administration dealt with this dilemma in June, the president decided...

MARTIN: This is when there were other reports of chemical weapons attacks.

SAMORE: Correct. And those attacks at that time looked like they were much more small scale attacks that were directed against opposition fighters as opposed to the broader public. So, at that time, the president decided that the U.S. would start to provide military equipment and training to some of the Syrian opposition. But that program has been very slow to get off the ground. So, I imagine one option the administration will be considering this time around in response to what appears to be a larger-scale chemical weapons attack would be to accelerate and expand the support in terms of military equipment and training for the Syrian opposition.

MARTIN: Gary Samore is a former White House coordinator for arms control and weapons of mass destruction for the Obama administration. He joined us from the studios at Harvard University. Thank you so much.

SAMORE: Thank you, Rachel.

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MARTIN: Today in Jordan, General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff, meets with defense chiefs from France, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. At the top of the agenda, the crisis in Syria. Elsewhere in the region, there are media reports the Arab League will meet in Cairo Tuesday for, quote, "urgent talks" on chemical weapons use in Syria. We are following these developments and will be reporting on them throughout the day.

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MARTIN: You're listening to NPR News.

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