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Chemical weapons in Syria? What Obama's high bar for proof could mean.

Three key US allies – Britain, France, and Israel – have said Syria has used chemical weapons in its civil war, but the US, wary of intervening in the conflict, is calling the evidence 'inconclusive.'

Secretary of State John Kerry gestures during a news conference at the NATO headquarters in Brussels April 23. Kerry said on Tuesday that NATO needed to consider its role in the Syrian crisis, including how practically prepared it was to respond to a potential chemical weapons threat.

Evan Vucci/Reuters

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The US reluctance to join with three key allies – Britain, France, and now Israel – in concluding that Syria’s Bashar al-Assad has used chemical weapons in his country’s civil war confirms President Obama’s consistent wariness about US intervention in the two-year-old conflict.

Beyond that point, however, former officials and analysts are split over why Mr. Obama is so cautious about the issue – he even refused to answer a reporter’s question on the topic Tuesday – and what the apparently high bar the administration has set for evidence of chemical weapons use means.

“It’s a hard call as to whether the administration is trying to avoid something, or if they just don’t have the evidence,” says Wayne White, a former State Department official with experience in Middle East intelligence.

Obama has said repeatedly since last August that Syria’s use of chemical weapons is a US “red line” and would be a “game changer” for the US. But now some critics say the president’s caution suggests a moving or “fuzzy” red line.


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