Tuesday there seemed to be no firm evidence that the Syrians were mixing the "precursor" chemicals for the nerve gas sarin. The chemical weapon could be loaded into bombs that would be dropped from Syrian Air Force fighter-bombers. But on Wednesday, NBC News said, American officials came to believe the bombs had indeed been readied with the lethal agent. The sarin bombs were not yet loaded onto the fighter planes, however, and Assad has not issued the "go" order.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned President Assad once again that he would be crossing "a red line" if he used nerve gas against the country's rebels. But "there's little the outside world can do to stop it," one official told NBC News. Secretary Clinton, in NATO headquarters in Brussels, said the Assad government was "increasingly desperate" and on the verge of collapse. The 21-month civil war has cost 40,000 lives already.
"We believe their fall is inevitable," Clinton said. "It is just a question of how many people have to die before that occurs."
Next week Clinton is expected to officially recognize the main opposition movement, the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, aides told NBC News, and the secretary will meet with them in Morocco. Britain, France, Turkey, and some Arab leaders have already recognized the opposition.
U.S. officials had long believed that the Syrian government was stockpiling the banned chemical weapons before it acknowledged possessing them this summer. NBC News reported in July that U.S. intelligence agencies believed Syria had access to sarin, tabun, a chemical nerve agent, as well as traditional chemical weapons like mustard gas and hydrogen cyanide.