Obama warns Syria against using chemical weapons
WASHINGTON - The White House and its allies are weighing military options to secure Syria's chemical and biological weapons, after U.S. intelligence reports show the Syrian regime may be readying those weapons and may be desperate enough to use them, U.S. officials said Monday.
President Barack Obama, in a speech at the National Defense University on Monday, pointedly warned Syrian President Bashar Assad not to use the weapons.
"Today I want to make it absolutely clear to Assad and those under his command: The world is watching," Obama said. "The use of chemical weapons is and would be totally unacceptable. And if you make the tragic mistake of using these weapons, there will be consequences and you will be held accountable."
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, in Prague for meetings with Czech officials, said she wouldn't outline any specifics.
"But suffice it to say, we are certainly planning to take action if that eventuality were to occur," Clinton said.
Options now being considered range from aerial strikes to limited raids by regional forces to secure the stockpiles, according to one current U.S. official and one former U.S. official, briefed on the matter. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
The administration remains reluctant to dispatch U.S. forces into Syria, but a U.S. special operations training team is in neighboring Jordan, teaching troops there how to safely secure such sites together with other troops from the region, the officials said.
The warnings come after U.S. intelligence detected signs the Syrian regime was moving the chemical weapons components around in several of Syria's chemical weapons sites in recent days, according to a senior U.S. defense official and a second U.S. official speaking on Monday. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about intelligence matters.
The Assad regime insists it would not use such weapons against Syrians, though it carefully does not admit to having them. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the government "would not use chemical weapons - if there are any - against its own people under any circumstances." The regime is party to the 1925 Geneva Protocol banning chemical weapons in war.
The Syrian assurances did not placate the White House.
"We are concerned that in an increasingly beleaguered regime, having found its escalation of violence through conventional means inadequate, might be considering the use of chemical weapons against the Syrian people," said White House press secretary Jay Carney.
An administration official said the trigger for U.S. action of some kind is the use of chemical weapons, or movement with the intent to use them, or the intent to provide them to a terrorist group like Hezbollah. The U.S. is trying to determine whether the recent movement detected in Syria falls into any of those categories, the official said. The administration official was speaking on condition of anonymity because this person was not authorized to speak publicly about the issue.