In an interview with France 2 yesterday, Wednesday, June 5, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius stated that the French government has performed tests on Syrian soil samples and now possesses strong evidence of the use of Sarin gas by the Assad regime.
“There is no doubt that it is the regime and its accomplices,” stated Fabius, who then attributed part of his certainty to a reliable chain of custody of the samples in question. Chain of custody is a hot-button issue when it comes to chemical samples – especially samples of such political importance – because they can be accidentally contaminated or purposefully tampered with to ensure a desired outcome.
Yet, despite France’s confidence, the US remains either skeptical, reluctant to commit to a plan of action, or both.
Responding to media questions about Fabius’ announcement, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said he had yet to see the evidence or discuss it with US intelligence agencies. Secretary of State John Kerry had a slightly more pointed reaction, in which he stated that the US would act on Syria on its own timeline, regardless of France’s findings.
As of this morning, all of the information referred to in Mr. Fabius’ initial statement has now been passed to the US, and to Professor Ake Sellstrom, head of the UN’s investigation mission of chemical attacks in the Syrian civil war, for independent analysis and confirmation.
One major issue underlying these developments is President Obama’s December 2012 announcement, in which he stated that chemical attacks would constitute a “game changer” or red line with regard to Syria, which would trigger a significant reaction on the part of the US and its allies.
Since then we have heard and seen a number of reports of chemical attacks in Syria, but none have been vetted to the Obama Administration’s satisfaction. So, regardless of the outcome of these current tests, without confirmation of multiple large-scale chemical attacks, it seems unlikely that the US will be pressed into action if Mr. Obama and his team do not feel ready.