"We are continuing to assess what happened," Hagel said during a joint press conference with Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera. "When? Where? I think we should wait to get the facts before we make any judgments on what action, if any, should be taken and what kind of action."
When asked if he ruled out any unilateral U.S. action on Syria, or if the anti-regime rebels had become too radical to work with, Hagel said, "My role and my responsibility is to present to the president options for any contingency. I won’t speculate on those options, nor publicly discuss those options."
A U.S. intelligence official, who spoke to McClatchy only on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation, characterized the assessments as giving “low or moderate confidence” that sarin was used by the Assad regime.
Administration officials have said on numerous occasions that bogus and exaggerated intelligence was used in 2003 to justify the invasion of Iraq, and Carney said Monday that the administration needs “more than simply intelligence assessments” before making a decision on what action it might take.
“I think all Americans would hope and expect that on a matter this serious that we would be very careful in that process and would insist upon gathering all the facts, and not rushing to take action,” he said.
A poll Monday found modest support for a military strike against Syria if the chemical weapons reports are confirmed. The Pew Research Center found that by a 45 percent to 31 percent margin, more Americans favor than oppose the U.S. and allies taking military action against Syria.
The national survey by Pew found that public attention to the Syrian conflict remains low and nearly a quarter of Americans – 23 percent – have no opinion about the use of military force.
Conducted April 25-28 among 1,003 adults, the survey found that Republicans favored military force by a 56 percent to 24 percent margin if the claims prove to be true. Democrats were less supportive, at 46 percent in favor vs. 34 percent opposed.
The Syrian regime has called for an international investigation into the reports of chemical weapons use, but it has yet to give permission to U.N. investigators who are waiting in Cyprus to enter the country.
Asked several times, Carney would not say how long the investigation might take.
“I think our history provides us with examples of why we need to be especially assiduous when it comes to evaluating and gathering evidence in matters related to these kinds of issues,” he said.
Jonathan S. Landay of the Washington Bureau contributed.