Obama warns Syria chemical weapons use may spark US action

 

Obama: "It doesn't just include Syria. It would concern allies in the region, including Israel, and it would concern us."

US President Barack Obama has said the use of chemical weapons by Syria would be a "red line" that would change his thinking on intervention in the crisis.

He said he had "at this point not ordered military engagement".

But he added: "There would be enormous consequences if we start seeing movement on the chemical weapons front or the use of chemical weapons."

Earlier the new UN special envoy to Syria faced criticism for refusing to say whether President Assad must quit.

President Obama, speaking to reporters at a White House briefing, said the deployment or use of biological weapons would widen the conflict in the region.

Syria's chemical weapons

  • The CIA believes Syria has had a chemical weapons programme "for years and already has a stockpile of CW agents which can be delivered by aircraft, ballistic missile, and artillery rockets"
  • Syria is believed to possess mustard gas and sarin, a highly toxic nerve agent
  • The CIA also believes that Syria has attempted to develop more toxic and more persistent nerve agents, such as VX gas
  • A report citing Turkish, Arab and Western intelligence agencies put Syria's stockpile at approximately 1,000 tonnes of chemical weapons, stored in 50 towns and cities
  • Syria has not signed the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) or ratified the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC)

Sources: CSIS, RUSI

He said: "It doesn't just include Syria. It would concern allies in the region, including Israel, and it would concern us."

He warned President Bashar al-Assad and "other players on the ground" about the use or movement of such weapons.

He said: "A red line for us is [if] we see a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around, or being utilised. That would change my calculus."

Syria holds the world's fourth-largest stockpile of chemical weapons. Last month a Syrian foreign ministry spokesman said the weapons would never be deployed inside Syria.

However, the BBC's Kim Ghattas in Washington says the US has seen unconfirmed reports recently that the Syrian authorities have been moving the country's chemical arms stockpile.

Fighting continued in several Syrian cities on Monday, including Damascus, Deraa and Aleppo.

A Japanese journalist, Mika Yamamoto, was killed by gunfire in Aleppo, the country's foreign ministry has confirmed.

Ms Yamamoto, 45, was a veteran war reporter, working for Japan Press.

The UN says more than 18,000 people have been killed in the conflict, 170,000 have fled Syria and 2.5 million need aid within the country.

Mission ends

Earlier on Monday, the UN's new envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi told the BBC that he was "not in a position to say yet" whether President Assad should go, but was "committed to finding a solution".

Lakhdar Brahimi (19/08/12) Lakhdar Brahimi has said he so far has no concrete ideas on how to end the conflict

Mr Brahimi, a former Algerian foreign minister, last week succeeded Kofi Annan who resigned after both sides largely ignored his peace plan.

On Sunday, UN observers ended their mission to verify its implementation.

Their departure came after the UN Security Council agreed to allow their mandate to expire at midnight, and instead set up a new civilian office in Damascus to pursue political contacts that might lead to peace.

Since being confirmed as the new UN and Arab League envoy to Syria, Mr Brahimi has acknowledged that he has no concrete ideas of how to end the conflict, which he believes has been a civil war for some time.

On Monday, he told the BBC that he was not ready to say whether President Assad should step down despite widespread international condemnation of his government's crackdown on dissent since protests erupted in March 2011.

"I am not in a position to say yet, because I was appointed a couple of days ago. I am going to New York for the first time to see the people who I am going to work for, and I am going to Cairo see the Arab League," he explained.

After announcing his resignation, Mr Brahimi's predecessor, Kofi Annan, said: "It is clear that President Bashar al-Assad must leave office."

The main opposition coalition, the Syrian National Council (SNC), said Mr Brahimi's stance showed "disregard for the blood of the Syrian people and their right of self-determination" and demanded he apologise.

Mr Brahimi stressed that he was "committed to finding a solution full stop".

"I am a mediator. I haven't joined any Syrian party. I am a mediator and a mediator has to speak to anybody and everybody without influence or interest," he added.

"Then I'll make up my mind about what to say and what to do."

 

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  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 327.

    Although I would love to see some kind of intervention in Syria, I believe that the U.S. must refrain from intervening. We have way to many problems on our own soil to risk more loss of soldiers and more economic crises due to war. Although sitting back and watching people suffer is not in our nature we cannot put our own countries soldiers and economy at risk any longer.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 155.

    It's important that Syria is heavily discouraged from using chemical weapons, not just to save the lives of Syrians, but also for the broader reason that once that line has been crossed, it has taken a step further in becoming a viable means of waging war by other dictators and fanatical groups around the world.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 115.

    This sad conflict naturally raises emotions in the 'west' and elsewhere, but the temptation to intervene should be resisted. In the long run such interference always produces unintended bad results or fails altogether. It really is none of the 'west's business. Unless Syria attacks a neighbour such as Turkey or Israel we should stay out of it.

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 114.

    Just the USA positioning itself to attack Syria, whatever the rights or wrongs. Remember WMD in Iraq? That was the stated reason for attacking - even though they didn't exist.
    A threat to use chemical weapons by Syrian forces will be invented, and that will suffice for another US-led bloodbath with long term catastrophic results for the country.

  • rate this
    +20

    Comment number 109.

    One day, a country sells weapons to a customer, the next, they are shocked that the weapons are used. US does it, Russia, China, UK and all the rest of the 'civilised' countries. The arms trade is a big earner and no-one cares who gets what.
    Syria is using Chinese and Russian weapons, Iraq used US and UK weapons.
    We are a barbaric species more interested in killing than curing.

 

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