U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel perked up some ears at today’s House Foreign Affairs hearing on Syria with a brief exchange in which he said Russia had supplied chemical weapons to Syria.
It all happened in an exchange with Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., during which Hagel said it’s no secret that the Assad regime has significant stockpiles of chemical weapons.
When Wilson asked where they’d come from, Hagel said, “Well, the Russians supply them. Others are supplying them with those chemical weapons. They make some themselves.”
After the hearing had concluded, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little issued a clarification, explaining that Hagel was referring to the “well-known conventional arms relationship between Syria and Russia.”
He also pointed out that Syria has had a “decades-old largely indigenous chemical weapons program.”
He added that some Russian military equipment and support can be modified to support Syria’s chemical weapons program.
Here is the full text of Little’s statement: “In a response to a member of Congress, Secretary Hagel was referring to the well-known conventional arms relationship between Syria and Russia. The Syrian regime has a decades-old largely indigenous chemical weapons program. Currently, Russia provides the Syrian regime a wide variety of military equipment and support, some of which can be modified or otherwise used to support the chemical weapons program. We have publicly and privately expressed our concern over the destabilizing impact on the Syrian conflict and the wider region of continued military shipments to the Assad regime.”