Hagel: US rethinking resistance to arming Syrian opposition

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Thursday that the Obama administration is re-thinking its opposition to arming the Syrian rebels, as officials weigh a range of options in the wake of findings that chemical weapons were likely used in the country's civil war.

"Arming the rebels -- that's an option," Hagel said at a Pentagon news conference.

Asked directly if the administration was reconsidering its opposition to that option, Hagel said "yes."

The comment cracks the door open, if only a little, to the U.S. getting more involved in the bloody Syria war.

President Obama, speaking separately at a press conference in the middle of a trip to Mexico, said Thursday that Hagel's remarks were "what I've been saying now for months." Obama said the U.S. still needs to "look before we leap," and make sure any steps the country takes serve to advance the cause of regime change.

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The administration last week revealed that U.S. intelligence found evidence that the regime used chemical weapons, specifically sarin, "on a small scale" in Syria. The White House, however, stressed that investigators would need to find out more about how that nerve gas was released before acting on that intelligence.

Obama has long called the use of chemical weapons in Syria a "red line" that could prompt U.S. action if crossed.

Hagel said Thursday that the U.S. must "rethink all options," though "it doesn't mean you do or you will" use those options.

"These are options that must be considered with partners, with the international community," he said.

At the same news conference, British Defense Secretary Philip Hammond said his government has not yet provided arms to the Syrian rebels but would not rule it out. He also said it appears the regime is "largely in control of its chemical weapons" sites.

The administration could be faced with several options if it chooses to get more involved in the Syria conflict. Some have called for the establishment of a no-fly zone, and even limited air strikes, but arming the opposition could represent a middle ground. Some lawmakers have been urging the administration for months to take that step.

Obama, in a press conference Tuesday, warned against "rushing to judgment without hard, effective evidence."

He said it's important to move forward "in a prudent way."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.