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

    Comment number 331.

    To the celebrators of multicultural diversity in the UK. Look at Syria and Lebanon, take away the sunshine, and realise that this is the UK's future.

    Nice one.

  • rate this

    Comment number 330.

    Given the overall context, including possible Israeli or Turkish intervention if chemical weapons were used in Syria, President Obama has no option but make an aggressive statement. As usual, Barack Obama's moral grounds are impeccable.

  • rate this

    Comment number 329.

    "Russia has warned against unilateral action in Syria after the US said it might intervene militarily if Damascus used chemical weapons" (BBC)

    No wonder. I recall Russian regime using chemical weapons in Dubrovka, killing a 150 of its own citizens (theater goers), calling it a "rescue operation" and blaming Chechen terrorists for their death.

  • rate this

    Comment number 328.

    A very volatile/dangerous place. The countries surrounding Syria are unstable too IMO. Nothing would surprise me. My confidence rises due to Israel who has had to live with the machinations of these countries' wackos since day 1. If anyone knows what is going on they do and I really don't think they would divulge what they know to the press (I wouldn't).

  • rate this

    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

    Comment number 326.

    #322 powermeerkat
    If Assad's regime were to use chemical weapons, I would hope surrounding Arab countries would intervene.

    I doubt it. But TURKEY might.

    And it might be advisable for some Arab states (such as Syria) to recall what's historically happened when Turks (Ottomans) got really miffed.

    [Turkey cannot afford to take an more refugees from Syria]

  • rate this

    Comment number 325.


    Where does Obama get the money from to finance these "interventions"?
    I thought the US debt was nearing $16 trillion


    From millions of mostly working and middle class Americans who aren't willing to put their feet down and say, Enough it enough! The biggest threat to America is the rotten lot in Washington, not Damascus or even Tehran.

  • rate this

    Comment number 324.

    #322 powermeerkat
    If Assad's regime were to use chemical weapons, I would hope surrounding Arab countries would intervene. But, they don't have a record of interfering, do they (?). Just seem to sit back with a water pipe.

    What a crazy world...particularly the ME and its 'people'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 323.

    It's clear from this thread and others like it that a lot, if not the vast majority, of people in the West are opposed to intervening in Syria, yet, once again, our 'democratic' leaders ignore the wishes of the people.

    The preamble to the US Constitution should be changed from We the People to We the Few and Powerful of the United States...

  • rate this

    Comment number 322.

    re #320

    I apologise for pointing out that posts which are clearly off-topic clearly are. And that the whole debate has turned, as usual, into a typical anti-US rant by people who can't do anything else to that country.

    [I thought that a topic was a possible use of chemical weapons by homicidal Assad regime and ramifications of such a deed.]

  • rate this

    Comment number 321.

    Where does Obama get the money from to finance these "interventions"?
    I thought the US debt was nearing $16 trillion.

  • Comment number 320.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 319.

    No peace until warmonger Obama is impeached. It looks like his days are numbered. The question is who will be the next US Wall st puppet to serve the Corporatocracies' interest to invade sovereign countries at their leisure?

  • rate this

    Comment number 318.

    In the post Assad Syria what will happen with these chemical weapons? I'm trembling already.

  • rate this

    Comment number 317.

    @314. The Bloke

    your incessant rants against the "left" are getting boring, less tribalism please...

  • rate this

    Comment number 316.

    I would have thought that ALL parties would be interested in 'securing' these type of weapons as there are numerous countries with Terrorist problems. It seems, however, that this little fact is a 'bit too much of an ask' at the moment...One can but hope eh.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 315.

    Why can't we all just get along : )

  • rate this

    Comment number 314.

    I'd have thought George 'Sir We Salute You' Galloway, who the left/bBC used to regard as a thoroughly bon oeuf, would have been all over the media today speaking out against the US, and in favour of Assad.

    Or has that 'little local difficulty' over Assange made even the BBC etc see the light?

  • rate this

    Comment number 313.

    syrai has had no problem bombing and killing non combatants in the wars so far. so type weapon might not matter in long run and if the government is about to fall they might take as many of rebels with them as they can.

  • rate this

    Comment number 312.

    It's a fine line. If the west sits back and doesn't interfere, they get blamed for 'turning a blind eye' to things that happen. If they get involved they get accused of 'meddling in something that doesn't concern them'

    So a warning of consequences I guess is about as on the fence as you can get between not interfering and being ready to jump in.


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