WASHINGTON — The U.S. ambassador to Syria said Wednesday the Obama administration has no evidence to support President Bashar Assad's claims that U.S.-backed rebels used chemical weapons in northern Syria, but is looking carefully at the conflicting reports.
"So far we have no evidence to substantiate the reports that chemical weapons were used yesterday," Robert Ford told the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He later added that the administration was extremely concerned and trying to verify reports that such weapons were used in the Aleppo province and the Damascus suburbs.
The administration on Tuesday disputed Assad's claim, and a U.S. official said there was no evidence that either Assad's forces or the opposition had used chemical weapons in an attack.
President Barack Obama has declared the use, deployment or transfer of the weapons to be his "red line" for possible military intervention in the Arab country. Ford said Wednesday that an increasingly besieged Assad regime might be tempted to use its stockpile of chemical weapons.
Hours before Ford's testimony, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Mike Rogers, said he feared a "stain on our national credibility" if the United States determines Assad is using chemical weapons to remain in power but fails to intervene.
The Michigan Republican said there was a "high probability" that a chemical agent was deployed Tuesday in northern Syria.
Rogers told "CBS This Morning" the U.S. knows "there has been some forensic evidence that at least small quantities" of chemical weapons may have been used. Rogers also said the United States had "lost the faith" of the opposition forces, adding, "This is the time to act. Don't wait until we have 5,000 dead."
In his testimony, Ford described an untenable situation as the Syrian civil war grinds on into its third year. The United Nations has estimated 70,000 have been killed, more than 1 million refugees have fled to neighboring countries and 2.5 million have been displaced internally.
The Syrian people "face a new level of ruthlessness from the Assad regime, which is raining Scud missiles down on residential neighborhoods, destroying hospitals and schools, and sending its thugs rampaging through the streets to terrorize their fellow citizens. The carnage is appalling," Ford said.
He insisted that the ideal outcome is a "negotiated political transition" to the crisis without Assad.