The State Department's head spokeswoman said
Wednesday that the State Department cannot corroborate reports that the Syrian
military used chemical weapons against its own people in the city of Homs last
State Department spokeswoman Victoria
Nuland commented extensively at Wednesday's briefing on The Cable's exclusive
Tuesday report that a secret cable sent last week from the U.S. consulate
in Istanbul had relayed evidence that chemical weapons were used in Homs on
Dec. 23. The cable, signed by the U.S.
consul general in Istanbul, Scott Frederic Kilner, outlined the
results of the consulate's investigation based on a series of interviews with
activists, doctors, and defectors, and made what an administration official who
reviewed the cable called a "compelling case" that Assad's military
forces had used a deadly form of poison gas.
On Tuesday, State Department Spokesman Patrick Ventrell told The
Cable, "As you know, the United States closely monitors Syria's
proliferation-sensitive materials and facilities, and we believe Syria's
chemical weapons stockpile remains secured by the Syrian government. We have
been clear that if Assad's regime makes the tragic mistake of using chemical
weapons or failing to secure them, it will be held accountable."
On Tuesday evening, after the report was published,
National Security Spokesman Tommy Vietor
a statement that said, "The reporting we have seen from
media sources regarding alleged chemical weapons incidents in Syria
has not been consistent with what we believe to be true about the Syrian
chemical weapons program."
Today, Nuland publicly acknowledged the existence of
the secret cable for the first time but said that The Cable's report "did not accurately convey the anecdotal
information that we had received from a third party regarding an alleged
incident in Syria in December."
"At the time we looked into the allegations that
were made and the information that we had received, and we found no credible
evidence to corroborate or to confirm that chemical weapons were used," she
Cable's report said that the cable in question had conveyed
information from internal sources inside Syria claiming that the chemical Agent
15, also known by its NATO term BZ, was responsible for the deaths and injuries
in Homs. The Cable also interviewed
two doctors who treated victims on the scene, both of whom said that they were
not claiming the gas was Agent 15 but that they were sure it was a chemical
weapon, rather than tear gas, based on the severity of the effects and the
nature of the symptoms.
Nuland said that the State Department receives
reports from embassies and consulates on such incidents regularly, but that in
this case, the department could not confirm the reports of chemical weapons use
and therefore determined there was no evidence of such use.
"It is a responsibility
of our embassies and consulates around the world, no matter what kind of
anecdotal information you have, to report it. That doesn't necessarily mean
that either at the time or over the longer term it is considered credible by
us," she said. "When this particular message came in from consulate Istanbul,
we took it seriously as we do with all such anecdotal reporting, and concluded
at the time that we couldn't corroborate it; we haven't been able to
corroborate it since either."
Reporters at the briefing pressed Nuland on why the
State Department was able to say today it believed no chemical weapons were
used in Syria but Tuesday they were unable to make that assertion. Nuland said
it took the government time to deal with the information because much of it was
Nuland also asserted that The Cable didn't give the State Department enough time to respond
to a request for comment.
"Sometimes we ask for more
time to get our ducks in a row, and sometimes we are granted that by members of
the fourth estate, and sometimes we are not. So we were able to give the
response that we had last night, but I am able to give a more full answer today.
And had the journalist waited for a more full answer, he would have had it,"
Nuland said, referring directly to your humble Cable guy. "We had asked for some time. We didn't get that time."
In fact, The Cable gave the State Department as
much time as it needed to respond to our request for comment, even extending
our deadline at the request of the State Department public affairs shop.
Ventrell's comment for the original report was sent more than 6 hours after our
Syrian activists say that the circumstances
surrounding the deaths in Homs make it impossible to be sure if or what
chemical weapons were used, because of the horrible conditions there, the lack
of access, and the lack of medical forensic equipment.
"It's difficult to know for sure what was used so all you have is whatever
people saw and the symptoms," said Sasha Ghosh-Siminoff, executive director of the Syrian Emergency
Task Force. "If it is true that the regime used chemical weapons, they
did it smartly by doing it in Homs, where it's hard to get to and hard to