The US government last week said the nerve agent sarin had been used in the conflict and it was likely that the Assad regime was responsible.

But the messages from the Obama administration appear confused, with the Whitehouse saying more information is needed and it’s not clear who handled the samples.

Analysts say Washington’s ambiguity could send a dangerous message to the Syrian regime.

When it comes to the use of chemical weapons in Syria, the Whitehouse is being uncharacteristically circumspect.

Last week, US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel said US intelligence had confirmed the nerve agent Sarin has been used in Syria “on a small scale”.

But he was quick to add more information is needed and intelligence could not confirm who had used the chemical weapons just that it was likely the sarin originated with the Bashar al- Assad regime.

Sharmine Nawani is a Middle East analyst. She’s called the chemical weapons saga a charade.

“They have zero evidence that chemical weapons were used in Syria or that they were used by the Syrian government. They’ve extrapolated from samples of sarin gas, ‘it must’ve been the Syrian government who used it’ and in my article I point out that we have examples as early as 2004 of sarin gas being used in IED roadside bombs by insurgents in Iraq.”

But the Whitehouse is treading carefully over this issue.

The Obama administration says they have “varying degrees of confidence” over the allegation that chemical weapons have been used, and the so-called “chain of custody” is not clear.

Sharmine Narwani says:

“They don’t know where it came from, who had it in their hands. When I asked the state department spokesman directly if that meant the sample had passed through unknown hands or that it could’ve been contaminated, he said ‘yes’.”

US President Barack Obama has long said proof that the Syrian regime had used chemical weapons would be a “game-changer”, a red line that if crossed, would alter his administration’s “calculus” of the war.

But he also says more evidence is needed about the Sarin samples.

Shashank Joshi is a Research Fellow at the Royal United Services Unit.He says the signalling out of the Washington has been ambiguous and confused.

“I think the messages reflect the uncertainty and the fragmentary nature of the evidence itself.”

Shashank Joshi says there are two theories about why Mr Obama is being so unclear. The first is that he is showing cowardice, and he’ll use any excuse to wriggle out of the commitments he made about the red line last year.

The other is that Mr Obama is simply being cautious, not wanting to repeat the mistakes made in Iraq over the now infamous non-existent weapons of mass destruction.

“I think the Iraq analogy is so powerful because a generation of officials were both disgraced and really embarrassed by the use of insufficiently strong evidence to go to war. That is what is driving this caution.”

But Shashank Joshi says America’s ambiguity could have dangerous consequences.

“The danger is, with that caution, it may send a message to the Assad regime, that actually, if you keep your use of chemical weapons sufficiently limited, and keep the circumstances around it sufficiently ambiguous, you will get away with in perpetuity and the Americans will wriggle out of their commitments. The problem is we can’t tell the difference between what you call cowardice or slipperiness or simple prudence.”

The Iraq War is clearly the elephant in the room here. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel alluded to it obliquely last week when he said “given the stakes involved, and what we have learned from our own recent experience, intelligence assessments alone are not sufficient to guide our decision-making,".

Sharmine Nawani says Iraq is playing a two-pronged role in the Syrian equation. Not only are Western governments wary of repeating the mistakes of the 2003 invasion, but Iraqi insurgents from that conflict are now involved in Syria.

“Iraq also plays a role in this now because there is the suspicion that a lot of the assistance that these rebels, these very Islamist, Salafist, militant rebels (not all of them obviously, I’m talking about the hard-liners) in Syria are coming from Iraq with this kind of experience.”

Sharmine Nawani highlights something that seems to be missing from the discourse about chemical weapons – the fact the Syrian regime has no motive to use them against the rebels.

“In the last month, the Syrian Army has made tremendous gains throughout Syria, in terms of stopping rebel movement into Damascus and clearing them out of some of their strongholds in the suburbs around the capital, and also cutting off supply lines in various parts of the country that have been essential to their growth and weaponisation. So why would the Syrian government do really small chemical weapons attacks where only one or two people died and a few were injured at a time like this when they were making these gains? Militarily it made absolutely no sense.”

Viacheslav Matuzov, a former member of the Russian foreign ministry goes even further. He says the reason the Obama administration is being so unclear is because the chemical weapons were actually used by the Syrian opposition.

“I think that Washington knows absolutely clear the situation in Syria with chemical weapons. Because all provocation that we watch right now with chemical weapons in Syria is connected with activity of oppositional forces, military forces that want to provoke the international community into intervention.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said today it’s unacceptable to speculate about the use of chemical weapons for geopolitical purposes.