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 131.

    Shouldn't the legitimate Syrian secular Government be allowed to use all weapons in its arsenal to defeat these mercenaries and terrorists - who are pretending to be a democratic insurgency to trick the west. Most of the fighters are reported to be Turks, Qataris and Saudi Arabian mercenaries sprinkled with Al-Qaeda fighters and Sunnis from Libya. There must be a hidden agenda by the USA.

  • rate this

    Comment number 130.

    107.Chris Neville-Smith
    ‘So, your basis for all anti-Assad forces being terrorists is three media outlets controlled by Iran and one controlled by Putin? Hmm.’
    Would a British news outlet be a better source?
    The action described in this article would suggest “terrorism” & “mercenaries”.

  • rate this

    Comment number 129.

    110.Controlled Pair

    Ahh I see you have fallen foul of the Omerta.. The first act of a Tyrant as we have seen in many other county's is for the state to censor the media & point the people down the correct political channels
    Still in the end there is always a back-lash and its is these same oppressors who them take the retribution. Just for Clarity NO INVOLVEMENT IN SYRIA ..

  • rate this

    Comment number 128.


    The USA is the cause of alot of the world problems. It instigates wars under complete lies It is beside the point. It doesn't need to get involved in every war. Like I said before, if it is so against human rights, what about Saudi, Pakistan, russia, china and the rest? They are going through the middle east country by country, but only attacks countries that disagree with them.

  • Comment number 127.

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

  • Comment number 126.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 125.

    At least the US don't have to lie and go against UN resolutions to go to war this time around. Syria have admitted that they have WMD's.

    I really wish they just keep their big trap shut sometimes, they are just as bad as the dictators, if not worse. Innocent killings of soldiers and then the lies about 911. Horrible administration to run the western world based on gun culture.

  • rate this

    Comment number 124.

    Shameful... the American government know all about chemical and germ warfare! Ask them about Agent Orange and giving Syphilis to black people! Also, feeding chemicals to their ‘own’ people! For example, they fluoridate most of their own water supplies and contaminate the food supply with chemicals such as Aspartame which is now proven to have detrimental effects to human health!

  • rate this

    Comment number 123.

    Chemical weapons aren't actually very good at killing people compared to to dropping high explosive on them. Its why the West hasn't used them for almost 100 years.

  • rate this

    Comment number 122.

    @116 - of course we know these countries have them - we sold them (including Iraq).

    Truth is, peace is the last thing 'the west' want in this region.

    It's simply a 'divide and conquer' policy they've been running for decade after decade.

    A crude summarisation, I admit. But that's the gist of it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 121.

    Jay Teapot - The war mongers are now at work..

    You mean Russia? who is supplying the arms to both sides of the conflict. Unless to think the weapons the FSA are armed with are L85A2S and M4s.

    Nathan Hobbs Here we go again. Just like in Iraq. Just like in Libya..

    You forgot to add 'just like Nazi Germany'
    Another brutal, anti-democracy dictator about to fall.

  • rate this

    Comment number 120.

    114. "Remember WMD in Iraq? That was the stated reason for attacking - even though they didn't exist."

    The difference here is that the US is not threatening to attack Syria for having chemical weapons. It is if they use them.

    If they use chemical weapons, there will be little doubt as to whether or not they exist.

  • rate this

    Comment number 119.

    111. hellblazer JUST NOW 97.krokodil

    Or you could say, the world turns to America because it is the only true superpower. Think of Kuwait 1990/91, Kosovo 1999 or the fact the USA is the primary donor and distributor of Aid and disaster relief.

    113. ross81... Oh and a little swipe against anyone criticising poor little innocent Israel. No a swipe against the echo of jackboots ;)

  • rate this

    Comment number 118.

    Britain should not get involved in this. History tells us that it is a thankless undertaking as has been discovered in Afghanistan both this time and previously during the first Afghan war. We also have history in Syria with the war against the Turkish Ottoman Empire in the early 20th century.
    We are no longer a 1st division global power and can not afford to play poodle to Americas wishes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 117.

    Those people who made anti-US comments are almost same as extremist and terrorist. In their brain, anti-US is more important than human lives. So it is acceptable to use chemical weapon if the user is the enemy of the US.

  • rate this

    Comment number 116.

    These chemical weapons (which every country has - let´s not pretend to be naive) - seem to have appeared in the news as a significant risk the way that weapons of mass destruction did a war ago.

  • rate this

    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

    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

    Comment number 113.

    krokodil - you must be blind or just a die-hard US apologist. The US hasn't lifted a finger against Syria? Dear oh dear! Google Syrian Support Group, which is a US based organisation that can now accept funding on behalf of the armed terrorists operating in Syria. Oh and a little swipe against anyone criticising poor little innocent Israel. Quelle surprise.

  • rate this

    Comment number 112.

    Perhaps Obama should authorise the use of depleted uranium shelling to stop the risk of chemical warfare..

    Oh wait....hang on a mo.....


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