White House 'deeply concerned' by reports of chem weapon attacks in Syria

Lesley Clark

The Obama administration says it's "deeply concerned" about reports that hundreds of Syrian civilians were killed in an attack today by government forces -- who reportedly used chemical weapons.

Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the White House was "working urgently" to gather more information and "strongly condemns any and all use of chemical weapons."

"Those responsible for the use of chemical weapons must be held accountable," Earnest said in a statement. He said the U.S. is formally requesting that the United Nations "urgently investigate" the reports and says a UN investigative team, which is currently in Syria, is prepared to do so.

"For the UN’s efforts to be credible, they must have immediate access to witnesses and affected individuals, and have the ability to examine and collect physical evidence without any interference or manipulation from the Syrian government," Earnest said in the statement. "If the Syrian government has nothing to hide and is truly committed to an impartial and credible investigation of chemical weapons use in Syria, it will facilitate the UN team’s immediate and unfettered access to this site."

Earnest said the White House has also called for "urgent consultations" in the UN Security Council to discuss the allegations and to call for the Syrian government to provide immediate access to the UN team.

"The United States urges all Syrian parties including the government and opposition, to provide immediate access to any and all sites of importance to the investigation and to ensure security for the UN investigative team," Earnest said. The White House in June announced that it would start providing "military assistance" to rebels in Syria after finding that the Syrian government had used lethal chemical weapons, crossing a U.S. "red line." That assistance, however, has yet to reach the rebels.

By Lesley Clark
McClatchy Washington Bureau