President Obama said Friday that Syria's potential use of chemical weapons would be a "game changer," but the U.S. and its global partners must thoroughly investigate suspicions raised by intelligence agencies.
That probe will seek "more direct evidence and confirmation" of chemical weapons use and could take a long time, Obama said before meeting with King Abdullah II of Jordan.
"This is not an on or off switch," Obama said. "This is going to be a long-tern proposition."
Obama spoke as White House aides continued to strike a cautious note on claims that Syria has used chemical weapons against rebels, saying President Obama wants all the facts before deciding how to proceed.
Intelligence agencies believe "with varying degrees of confidence" that Bashar al-Assad's government has used small amounts of sarin gas in clashes with Syria rebels, officials said.
Said Obama: "These are preliminary assessments; they're based on our intelligence gathering. We have varying degrees of confidence about the actual use, but there are a range of questions around how, when, where these weapons may have been used."
White House spokesman Jay Carney declined to put a timeline on the investigation. "The facts will need to be what drives this investigation, not a deadline," he said.
Carney said the administration is now backing a United Nations investigation into the issue to make "a definitive judgment" in the use of chemical weapons.
Also from Carney: "This is not an airtight case. We do have some evidence, but we need to build on that."
In August, President Obama said any Syrian use of chemical weapons would cross a "red line" that would prompt a U.S. response. Obama has not specified what that response might be, and neither did Carney on Friday.
"All options remain on the table," Carney said.
Other aides have warned against a rush to judgement, citing flawed intelligence about non-existent weapons of mass destruction in Iraq before the 2003 invasion of that country.
BY: David Jackson/USA Today