Washington — The House Intelligence chairman says he believes Syria already has used small quantities of chemical weapons during its civil war with rebels, an assertion the White House has not made.
Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Brighton, said on Wednesday night's Charlie Rose television show on PBS that "Many of us believe they have crossed that threshold."
"There's a body of evidence," he added, "that leads me to believe as of yesterday that now the Syrians have in fact … in a small number of times used some quantity of chemical weapons."
President Barack Obama, on a Middle East trip, said the United States is investigating whether Syria has used chemical weapons. Obama has described that as a red line Syria must not cross.
"So far we have no evidence to substantiate the reports that chemical weapons were used (Tuesday)," U.S. ambassador to Syria Robert Ford told the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
It is unlikely there will be any clear confirmation whether an attack Tuesday, killing at least 31 people in the northern village of Khan al-Assal, involved chemical weapons. Syria's government seals off areas it controls to journalists and outside observers.
Rogers says the United States should take action to save lives and secure weapons systems.
"I'm not talking about whole-scale war, boots on the grounds, none of that. But … I think we're obligated to the international community, certainly to our own national security interest, to prevent the use of a weapon of mass destruction," he said.
The U.S. could, for instance, create a no-fly zone in northern Syria where it could train and equip opposition forces and bolster their confidence, he said.
Sen. Carl Levin, D-Detroit, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the top Republican on the panel, urged Obama Thursday to take "more active steps" in Syria, such as training opposition fighters and conducting precision air strikes.
"The longer the conflict in Syria goes on, the worse its consequences are becoming," they wrote in a letter.
As the situation becomes reminiscent of the start of the U.S.-Iraq war, some experts and administration officials worry the U.S. runs the risk of arming the wrong people.
Rogers said it would be a mistake to wait too long.
"You can't wait for a pile of corpses to decide that that's the evidence that you have to move forward," he said.
Associated Press contributed.