The Obama administration announced in April that it had "varying degrees of confidence" that sarin had been used in Syria. But they said at the time that they had not been able to determine who was responsible for deploying the gas.
The more conclusive findings announced Thursday were aided by evidence sent to the United States by France, which, along with Britain, has announced it had determined that Assad's government had used chemical weapons.
Obama has said repeatedly that the use of chemical weapons would cross a "red line" and constitute a "game changer" for U.S. policy on Syria, which until now has focused entirely on providing the opposition with nonlethal assistance and humanitarian aid.
The White House said it had notified Congress, the United Nations and key international allies about the new U.S. chemical weapons determination. Obama will discuss the assessments, along with broader problems in Syria, next week during the G-8 summit in Northern Ireland.
Among those in attendance will be Russian President Vladimir Putin, one of Assad's most powerful backers. Obama and Putin will hold a one-on-one meeting on the sidelines of the summit, where the U.S. leader is expected to press his Russian counterpart to drop his political and military support for the Syrian government.
"We believe that Russia and all members of the international community should be concerned about the use of chemical weapons," Rhodes said.
Britain's U.N. Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said his country was "not surprised by the determination made by the U.S. government," given its own assessments, and was in consultation with the Americans about next steps.
The U.S. has so far provided the Syrian rebel army with rations and medical supplies. In April, Kerry announced that the administration had agreed in principle to expand its military support to the opposition to include defensive items like night vision goggles, body armor and armored vehicles.
The Syrian fighters have been clamoring for bolder Western intervention, particularly given the estimated 5,000 Hezbollah guerrillas propping up Assad's forces. Assad's stunning military success last week at Qusair, near the Lebanese border, and preparations for offensives against Homs and Aleppo have made the matter more urgent.
While McCain has pressed for a greater role for the U.S. military, other lawmakers have expressed reservations about American involvement in another conflict and fears that weapons sent to the rebels could fall into the hands of al-Qaida-linked groups.
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, condemned the Assad regime but expressed serious concerns about the United States being pulled into a proxy war.
"There are many actions that the United States can take to increase our humanitarian assistance to refugee populations and opposition groups short of injecting more weapons into the conflict," Murphy said. "I urge the president to exercise restraint and to consult closely with Congress before undertaking any course of action to commit American military resources to Syrian opposition forces."
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, also urged the White House to consult with Congress."It is long past time to bring the Assad regime's bloodshed in Syria to an end," he said through a spokesman, Brendan Buck. "As President Obama examines his options, it is our hope he will properly consult with Congress before taking any action."