U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has confirmed that Syria very likely used chemical weapons against its own citizens in the country’s ongoing civil war.
The finding was released to senators in a letter.
“Our intelligence community does assess with varying degrees of confidence that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale in Syria, specifically the chemical agent sarin,” Michael Rodriguez, White House director of Legislative Affairs, wrote in a letter to senators Thursday.
Hagel confirmed these findings in a press conference in Abu Dhabi, where he was ending a week-long Middle East tour.
This finding is significant because President Barack Obama has said the use of chemical weapons could be the “red line” that forces the U.S. to take action against Syrian President Bashar Assad as he attempts to hang on to power. The U.S. has, until now, not sent troops to Syria and it is reluctant to do so.
Sarin, the one chemical identified thus far, is a nerve gas that was used during the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s. Exposure to large doses can cause loss of consciousness, convulsions, paralysis and respiratory failure leading to death.
The admission is a marked changed for the U.S. administration. Just 24 hours earlier, Hagel said that it would not rush a report on the use of chemical weapons in the country. “Suspicions are one thing, evidence is another,” he told reporters during a visit to Egypt Wednesday.