WASHINGTON — American and European intelligence analysts now believe that President Bashar al-Assad’s troops have used chemical weapons against rebel forces in the civil war in Syria, an assessment that will put added pressure on a deeply divided Obama administration to develop a response to a provocation that the president himself has declared a “red line.”
According to an internal memorandum circulating inside the government on Thursday, the “intelligence community assesses that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale against the opposition multiple times in the last year.” President Obama said in April that the United States had physiological evidence that the nerve gas sarin had been used in Syria, but lacked proof of who used it and under what circumstances. He now believes that the proof is definitive, according to American officials.
But a flurry of high-level meetings in Washington this week only underscored the splits within the Obama administration about what actions to take to quell the fighting, which has claimed more than 90,000 people. The meetings were hastily arranged after Mr. Assad’s troops — joined by fighters from the militant group Hezbollah — claimed the strategic city of Qusayr and raised fears in Washington that large parts of the rebellion could be on the verge of collapse.
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