US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Wednesday that Russia was a supplier of chemical weapons to the Syrian military, but the Pentagon quickly backed off the claim and said Hagel was referring to conventional weapons, RIA Novosti reported.
Speaking in testimony before the foreign affairs committee of the US House of Representatives, Hagel said: "There's no secret that the Assad regime has had chemical weapons, significant stockpiles of chemical weapons."
Pressed by a representative to name the origin of those chemical weapons, Hagel added: "The Russians supply them, others are supplying them with those chemical weapons, they make some themselves."
In a statement released shortly after Hagel made his comments, Pentagon spokesman George Little attenuated the US defense chief's remarks.
"In a response to a member of Congress, Secretary Hagel was referring to the well-known conventional arms relationship between Syria and Russia," Little said.
Little described Syria's chemical weapons program as "largely indigenous" but noted that Russia has provided Syria with various types of military equipment and support, "some of which can be modified or otherwise used to support the chemical weapons program."
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