Daily Video

April 26, 2013

Has Syria Used Chemical Weapons on Civilians?

Watch U.S. Believes Syrian Regime Has Used Chemical Weapons on PBS. See more from PBS NewsHour.

First 2:50 minutes are the setup and remainder is a discussion.

The Obama administration said recently it believes the Syrian government has used chemical weapons, but it stopped short of saying that the regime had crossed the so-called red line, which would trigger a U.S. response. The disclosure came initially from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, traveling in Abu Dhabi.

“U.S. intelligence community assesses with some degree of varying confidence that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale in Syria, specifically, the chemical agent sarin,” commented Secretary Hagel.

At the same time, the White House released letters using exactly the same words from Legislative Affairs Director Miguel Rodriguez to senators Carl Levin and John McCain.

In the letters, Rodriguez added: “We do believe that any use of chemical weapons in Syria would very likely have originated with the Assad regime.”

But he said the U.S. would need more definitive evidence before deciding to act. “Given the stakes involved,” he said, “only credible and corroborated facts that provide us with some degree of certainty will guide our decision-making.”

For months, President Obama has warned the Syrian government against using chemical weapons in terms he first used last August.

“We have communicated in no uncertain terms with every player in the region that that’s a red line for us and that there would be enormous consequences if we start seeing movement on the chemical weapons front or the use of chemical weapons. That would — that would change my calculations,” responded President Obama.

Until now, the administration has said it’s waiting for the results of an independent U.N. investigation into the allegations. Britain and France said recently they think the Assad regime has used chemical weapons. And Qatar and Israel gave similar assessments last week.

What plan of action the Obama administration will take is still to be determined but it is clear that pressures and tensions are mounting.

Warm Up Questions:

1.  Where is Syria?

2. What are chemical weapons?

3. What is a civil war?

4. What is diplomacy?

Discussion Questions:

1. If it is proven that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons, should the U.S. government intervene? Why or why not?

2. If you were the President of the United States, how would you respond to the use of chemical or nuclear weapons by foreign governments?

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