Pressed on whether there will be a U.S. military response at some point, Hagel responded: “When we have more information, then that answer will become clear.”
U.S. officials repeatedly have said that Syria should allow U.N. inspectors into Ghouta, the eastern suburb of Damascus where hundreds were killed last week in a suspected chemical attack, if it didn’t have anything to hide.
The Syrian government, via the state news agency SANA, said that it would allow the foreign inspectors into Ghouta after reaching an agreement with the U.N. that takes effect “immediately.” The report said that Syria was ready “to cooperate with the U.N. investigators to expose the false allegations of the terrorist groups accusing the Syrian forces of using chemical weapons.”
A senior administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, dismissed Syria’s “belated decision,” saying that the regime obfuscated for so long that now “the evidence available has been significantly corrupted as a result of the regime’s persistent shelling and other intentional actions over the last five days.”
“There is very little doubt at this point that a chemical weapon was used by the Syrian regime in this incident,” the official said, citing the high number of casualties, victims’ symptoms, eyewitness accounts and the intelligence assessments of the U.S. and its allies.
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Syria’s agreement seems to be aimed at buying time because of stronger signals from the United States and its allies to respond militarily, said Salman Shaikh, director of the Brookings Doha Center, a research institute in Qatar.
“We’ve gotten this far because there is a feeling that there is a sense of resolve from the United States that I believe has come only in the last couple of days,” Sheikh said.