US Boosts Involvement in Syria Following Chemical Weapon Discovery

Officials say there is evidence that Syrian troops used chemical weapons on rebels.
20:45 | 06/14/13

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Transcript for US Boosts Involvement in Syria Following Chemical Weapon Discovery
This is a special report from me -- Anti Hernandez in new York and this is ABC news digital special report the United States is officially entering the war in Syria committee to help armed rebel groups. Citing the -- government. Washington says it does have evidence the Syrian troops used chemical weapons on the rebels and that has changed president Obama's calculus for more now on the decision the timing and what it all means were joined by ABC news political director Rick Klein. An ABC digital reporter at the Pentagon Louis Martinez -- -- -- -- -- favorite let's start with you we've known about the use of chemical weapons for some time what's changed now. With changes of the United States is determined who used the chemical weapons and was what purpose tying them. To the regime against the rebels is the key point here. That the White House has been reluctant to do we've heard a lot of close the international community weigh in on this and even pressuring. The president toward his self imposed red line on this and this crosses that red line is the White House. Admits -- they wanted to be extra shore the shadow of previous wars on faulty intelligence hanging large. Over this White House -- very very sure about who use the weapons and with what intent. -- what does this mean now we're talking about adding military support right now we get food we give. And medical supplies to the Syrian rebels what would change. Well as you mentioned -- being humanitarian and basically that we nonlethal -- is what we've been giving Syrian rebels. The transition here is towards lethal assistance. The thinking -- arms and ammunition. As a whole spectrum of possibilities that are being considered. But what we've been told is that basically the more likely scenario. Is that the US will provide small arms weaponry. We fired on the battlefield and ammunition. The big ticket items that the Syrian rebel leaders have been talking about. Specifically. Anti tank or anti aircraft weapons though -- -- on the table it doesn't appear that they're being given serious consideration. So what we're talking about right now looks like small arms and some ammunition it could be provided to rebel groups. -- you talked about pressure from America's western allies. What -- they say is the worst case scenario -- the US doesn't intervene more. -- we -- -- tens of thousands of deaths in Syria that would continue essentially unabated if you don't change the tactics that's the fear without US intervention. And keep in mind here that the president is set to head to head to Europe for a high profile series of meetings the G-8 summit. Coming up in NORTHERN IRELAND next week. And he was going to be pressure -- he's also going to be seen the Russian leader Vladimir Putin with -- -- for the White House that the president. Will be meeting with with food and himself and talking about this very issue Syria in that G-8 -- only country that it. -- Russia the only country -- seen as supportive of the Syrian regime in maybe having a role here in trying to take tamp things down a little bit. In the medium term the idea that these G-8 leaders are going to be meeting and the president. President Obama was stuck in a position of not wanting to push in one what direction or the other thing that's part of the timeline that the White House is considering here. Please tell us a little bit about what this means in terms of the timing -- -- -- there -- some -- say you know what it's getting to be a little -- it's now -- -- Well. This isn't it a civil war that's been dragging on for two years the debate about whether to arm the Syrian rebels has been going -- for more -- last year but opinions within the administration. Left -- last year that much of the national security cabinet supported a providing weaponry to the Syrian rebels but it was President Obama himself. Who said that he was not going to do that. We've seen an evolution. In this obviously. As the information about about additional. Attacks chemical weapons attacks on the part of the Syrian. Government against its population. Against Syrian rebels. So this has been -- change that we're seeing now. What. As you -- -- what kind will these weapons being game changer. Probably not. Who are already seeing the Syrian rebels have gotten significant weapons supplies from regional partners like Qatar. On the saudis. Which have been funneling through Turkey. So this is. -- enormous symbolic. A message right now is Mike my thinking -- isn't what it could really do you on the battlefield it remains to be seen. But it does send a message to the rebels at the US is willing to support them. And also message -- aside. That they want him to go. One other thing that we're talking about in terms of small arms weapons he is also night vision goggles and body armor that something that the administration has been considering for some time. And had actually agreed to do -- just seeing that package being enhanced with a small arms and ammunition. -- -- -- of the fact that Syria is now reaching other nations to help its government fight the rebels factored into the US calculation to. To to pick up steam in terms of helping the rebels now. I think it's a -- probably -- secondary factor is the use of chemical weapons this would change this is -- said this has been going on. For two years now so that's not even about the events on the ground although. They are terrible and clearly the White House and this administration has an interest in stopping them is the idea of crossing that red line of using chemical weapons. Against your own people that is that's really what's forcing the White House hand on this as -- and also mention. A fierce internal debate inside the administration -- from playing out on this we know about a plan. That is that the former CIA director put forward that would involve arming the rebels that was shelved by the White House we also know there's been pressure from the State Department urged to try to escalate this to realize what's going on. But -- the circle of White House advisors and resistance that I do think that they have been doing just about everything they could. To avoid the US be more involved militarily in what's going on in Syria the big. Big preference would have been to see some kind of -- regime change it doesn't involve US military intervention any further that is right now. And definitely a lot of steps to go before they would get to boots on the ground as they say so I think they they ultimately got this position but they were dragged there by events. -- what's the sense of them. A suitable and acceptable and -- here you mentioned these weapons may not make a tremendous difference at this point considering what they're willing to do up to now. But why would they like to see happens. There is no doubt about what the United States -- they want -- side regime to go -- since very early on. And the Arab Spring when -- eight. When they're adults began when -- protests in the streets. Began it gets to decide regime we started hearing administration city. They wanted to -- to -- -- and heard the president himself very early on say. And that his days were numbered and that's been the standard line. From every spokesman here in Washington about the Syrian regime and so it -- want him to go but they wanted to go through peaceful transition. This is why you see senator -- secretary of state -- Talking about negotiated political transition. Inside Syria where both aside and the rebels can get together. And work -- a peaceful transition where aside. Steps down two way rebel government. But that is was gaining traction. They were talking about big meetings in Geneva and that has been sidetracked over the last week yourself so it's unclear. And part of that is because of the rebels and so they don't want to be at the same table with -- All right Lily and Rick and -- thank you so much for joining us as we know right now the a news conference is starting let's check in with Ben Rhodes. Updating us on this moves for the US helped arm rebels in Syria. Authority finalists. So that the president's decision to. Increase. Support for the Syrian opposition including the supreme military council the SMC which is again the principle fighting force on the ground we've been working with. There's -- decisions if he's made over the course of the last several weeks. I'm particularly as our assessment of chemical weapons use firmed up. And as we saw a deteriorating situation in general with -- and actors like Iran -- getting involved. So this has been a steady increase for us you know we it. It's steadily increased both the size and scope of our assistance the political opposition and the SNC and we decided to take an additional step forward and providing. Dramatically increase assistance. To the senate -- going forward. At the same time. You this is a fluid situation so it's necessary for -- -- consult with. All the leaders of the G-8 about both are chemical weapons assessment and the types of support we're providing deposition. With the French and the British. They have shared our positions generally on Syria they've been a part of the -- core group of essentially Latin countries. In the Middle East and in Europe that it worked together to strengthen the Syrian opposition. I will leave it to them to make their own. Announcements they did of course lift the embargo that was in place that prevented arms -- from the in European Union. Into Syria. But I think he'll be discussing with those leaders what the best way forward is you'll hear from them what their plans are. Thus far -- they've been important partners the French and the British in particular. And sharing information intelligence related to chemical weapons so we'll continue that going forward. We know prime minister Cameron's constructive statement today welcoming our assessment but this will be an ongoing dialogue between the president as -- Reuters. -- the president making. There are fighters on the ground -- -- and some of us. Well under crystal ball we've had again an upward trajectory of assistance and general. And they have already seen certain types of assistance. That has reached into Syria. Examples of that might be what we traditionally call and Marty's meals ready to you. And medical kids but the additional types of assistance. That we will be providing to them going forward. It obviously takes time from a decision -- that -- -- assistance to reach people in Syria. Again given in the way in which we implement. Our assistance. Programs. I can give you a specific time liner. Itemized list of what that assistance is -- one or get there. But suffice to say what we've been able to do. By developing a relationship with the SMC as well as the Syrian opposition coalition of the course of the last six months or so. Is to develop relationships. To find individuals conferences like general interest of the S&C. Who we are focusing this assistance towards. That's important because it both allows you to get assistance. Into the hands of those who need it. But it also allows you to have protections. To try to keep assistance from reaching those who we don't want to receive material. For instance on this for a which is generally been then my most extremist element of the opposition. -- Not so much from from the Russians. Foreign minister. Saying that. Nevada that -- citing intelligence data. What. Establishing the level of trust that you need. Beginning if you meetings we. Whose presence there and in the -- Sure we've had differences with Russia on Syria. And all I'd say with respect to the chemical weapons assessment that we speak to them. Is that we have a broad range of evidence associated with that multiple incidents of chemical weapons -- that we assess took place. On that includes. Open source reporting -- it includes intelligence reporting. It includes the accounts of individuals it also includes physiological samples of San. That we've obtained from within Syria. And so we assess with high confidence -- has been used. And frankly. -- regime maintains custody of these weapons. So both because of our own. Intelligence assessment and because of the fact that we believe that the regime has maintained possession of its chemical weapons arsenal. Leads us to the very firm conclusion that and the use of chemical weapons would have been -- -- At the same time. We still continue to discuss with the Russians whether there's a way. To bring together elements of the regime the opposition to achieve a political settlement -- no illusions that that's going to be easy. We still have a difference of the Russian differences on the fact that we believe the -- I would have to leave powers of part of that process. But will continue those talks and frankly the type of relationship we have with the Russians is such that even as we have disagreements and even strong disagreements and some areas. We want to work together on issues -- we do you have convergence of interest such as nuclear security counterterrorism. And the situation Afghanistan. I kept. Then followed up on that. Do you expect that has. At all on this period. As a result of the -- And keep happening anymore he could today where will the president care more details which caters to those -- About extensive military support. Sure army. I'm present prudent. I I would. I would hesitate. You know. Characterize his views that he he's very good at doing that. I think you know what. I think what we would say with respect to -- They the Russian position on Syria generally. Is that what Russia's articulated to us. And publicly is -- they don't wanna see it its downward spiral they don't want to see chaotic and unstable situation in the region. They don't want to see -- extremist elements of gaining a foothold insert. And the point -- we've made to Russia is that the current course in which side is not being appropriately pressured. To step down power by. Those who continue to support -- the international community is bringing about those very outcomes. So it's in Russia's interest to join us in applying pressure. On the Charles side to come to the table in a way that relinquishes his power and his standing in Syria and because we don't see any scenario where he. Resource is legitimacy to lead the country. So we're fundamentally making an interest based argument the Russians. That they can best protect their interest by being a part of a political settlement that is real. And that enables a transition away from a -- rule but preserve some elements of the institutions of the state. Preserve some elements of the regime but again respects the rights of the Syrian people and brings in. The opposition -- we believe speaks for the majority of of the country. Time and on the yeah I think -- I think that the president I'll definitely be. Discussing the types of aid and assistance that we provide and to Syria. Again in particular the countries that work with us on -- are our European allies and the French and the British had been the most prominent in that regard. So I think he'll be discussing -- probably. Also opportunities. To see the leaders. On the margins at these meetings as well. I should've added that you know we fully displayed on -- -- -- spent some time the prime minister Cameron before the G-8 it may not be formal violent but. We expect then at some time together so -- he'll be he'll be having this discussions. Again given the nature of the assistance and again you know how we provide assistance general in situations like this. It's not an instance where we can be specific about every single. Aspect of what we're doing. I'm but I think that the general point that we've made instead I'd indicate. That because of the actions we've seen taken including chemical weapons -- we've decided to take this step of increasing again but the size and scope of assistance including -- -- military counts as. For Carolina. On corporate tax avoidance what sort of hungrier subsidy. Outcomes did you expect. I think G-8 each is will be able to get the political push to the importance of work that's on going on -- and just to mention here in in the US the president has championed proposals to ensure that -- companies cannot shift that profits. To places where -- no taxation. For example with. With the proposal for a minimum tax on foreign -- -- -- -- his white paper. And we need to have a comprehensive solution what we really want to see is -- the G-8 countries agreeing. That there are a number of different -- this is an important goal for them -- -- work towards. And we should be rewarding. Incentives -- country food companies to invest and create jobs. Here -- home -- it makes sense for them to do that and make that productive decisions -- That record we know that the president's words that. I think that these political. The moves by G-8 leaders do translate into an effect because they push. The processes that otherwise might be going more slowly and they also. In -- Government's -- to take different actions we know that but what we have put -- woods. We -- to -- and Oscar. The OECD Fritz on who is working on a ten place. For more transparency by companies. I expect that there will be a strong support from G-8 leaders are not. Other countries including the UK. -- now stepping forward and saying they also wants to make important aspects in this area so that its national tax. Policy doesn't develop into a race to the bottom and that's an important outcome for. Because a lot of these. -- -- -- Cost to go home and take individual actions -- selves but having that collective commitment to welcome these issues is important. We're going to bring in now. Our. Pentagon reporter Louis here to talk about. What -- has been saying specifically some of the concerns about the cohesiveness of the -- something that they're going to be looking to make sure. That they helped Foster as now the supply of. Military support -- Inside some questions that you heard the reporters asking the very ones that we were talking about before he went -- -- that. Such as why what kind of effectiveness -- -- -- half. Two years then and there is interesting -- -- say that actually that length of time has led to greater cohesion. Within the various elements of the Syrian opposition. Is giving -- time to actually improve on the battlefield time to represent the interests of the those opposed to -- Asad regime. And he says that even in the last six months there's been a development that has made it easier for the US to deal with a very cohesive opposition. So when we talk about the opposition series gotta understand where you literally talking about hundreds. An opposition groups that are fighting the aside regime all over the country. And as you heard and stated this battle lines originally from -- level and northwest up their by the border with Turkey. Down keep his -- with. The border in Lebanon but -- here is saying is that the eastern part of the country. Is it is significantly under rebel control as well so we're -- about a major logistical challenges trying to bring all of these out together. And how easy to get the arms in two Syria he says that it should be easy given. That the pipeline already exists in terms of the nonlethal aid. That the United States is in providing -- the S and see the Syrian military council. Interesting that -- really didn't want to go to any detail about the type of weapon re here at this specific type of support they would be adding. Into rebel hands so I mean this is obviously something that's either. Being hashed out at this point or you know they don't want to tip their hat about. It's it's a combination of both attack what we're talking about here is they still have yet to determine the laundry list of items that they're -- -- provide. Two the rebels but what we have been told is -- for -- definitely one of the items appearing to provide. Our small arms and ammunition. Anything beyond that still remains to be seen so it's a combination of not wanting to get their hands to -- -- regime and also because they still yet to decide on the specifics. -- -- Louis Martinez joining -- from the Pentagon want to thank you. For joining -- you've been watching ABC news digital special report -- Hernandez -- gonna return you now to our right. This has been a special report from the.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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