Obama: Chemical weapons in Syria a “Red Line” for U.S.
August 20, 2012 Leave a comment
By Jennifer Packer, Political Analyst
Washington, Aug. 20 – The United States has refrained from military engagement in the Syrian conflict, but that would change if there’s any sign that the Syrian regime is moving to or using chemical or biological weapons, President Obama said Monday.
“That’s an issue that doesn’t just concern Syria; it concerns our close allies in the region, including Israel; it concerns us. We cannot have a situation where chemical or biological weapons are falling into the hands of the wrong people,” the president said in an unscheduled appearance in the White House briefing room.
Syria’s stockpile reportedly includes mustard gas as well as nerve agents such as Sarin, Tabun and VX.
“We have been very clear (not just) to the Assad regime but also to other players on the ground (that) a red line for us is if we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus,” Obama said.
More than 20,000 people – most of them civilians, have been killed in Syria’s year-and-a-half conflict.
Last month, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Syrian regime was moving its stockpiles of chemical weapons out of storage facilities. The purpose of the effort was unclear to Western officials.
The embattled regime, led by President Bashar al-Assad, may be moving the weapons to protect them from terrorists and opponents of the government or even preparing to use them against rebel forces fighting against the government, according to U.S. officials interviewed by the newspaper.
“This could set the precedent of WMD [weapons of mass destruction] being used under our watch,” one U.S. official said. “This is incredibly dangerous to our national security.”
By moving the arsenal of weapons, Israeli officials said they believe it means Damascus is trying to protect its arsenal from more dangerous elements.
Israel has particular concerns about such weapons, fearing they could fall under the control of Iran-backed Hezbollah, which in 2006 launched thousands of rockets at northern Israel and sparked a month-long conflict, said Ehud Eliam, an Israeli national security expert.