U.S. threatens Syria with military intervention over chemical weapons arsenal

Tuesday, August 21, 2012
By Paul Martin

August 21, 2012

SYRIA – President Obama warned Syria on Monday that it would face American military intervention if there were signs that its arsenal of unconventional weapons was being moved or prepared for use. It was Mr. Obama’s first direct threat of force against Syria, as he has resisted being drawn into the bloody 18-month rebellion. The president’s warning raises the pressure on President Bashar al-Assad, whom Mr. Obama again called on to relinquish power. And it underscores the deepening alarm among American officials that, as Syria sinks further into civil war, its unconventional weapons could be seized by radical forces tied to terrorist groups like Hezbollah or Al Qaeda. The warning brings Mr. Obama, who has brushed aside calls to impose a no-fly zone or to arm the Syrian rebels, a step closer to direct American engagement. The specter of unconventional weapons being loosed in the heart of the Arab world, he said, would upend his calculation that military intervention would only worsen the situation. “We cannot have a situation in which chemical or biological weapons are falling into the hands of the wrong people,” Mr. Obama said in response to questions at an impromptu news conference at the White House. “We have been very clear to the Assad regime but also to other players on the ground that a red line for us is, we start seeing a whole bunch of weapons moving around or being utilized.” “That would change my calculus,” he added. “That would change my equation.” Western authorities say that Syria’s arsenal includes chemical weapons but that they are uncertain whether the country has stockpiled biological weapons. The president said the Pentagon was drafting a range of contingency plans, working with American allies in the region, including Israel and Turkey. He expressed little confidence that the Syrian government could keep its weapons stockpile under lock and key, given the widespread strife in the country. Last month, American officials said they had unspecified evidence that Mr. Assad’s forces had moved some parts of the stockpile out of storage, although the transfer was never confirmed. Experts on Syria speculated at the time that the move reflected the government’s worry about the security of the weapons, not any intent to use them. The Syrian Foreign Ministry announced in July that it would deploy chemical weapons only against foreign intervention, never against its own citizens. –NY Times

Syrian violence spreading to Turkey? A car bomb that exploded near a police station in southeastern Turkey has killed eight people and wounded 64 others. Police say the blast happened Monday night in the town of Gaziantep, near the country’s border with Syria. The remote-controlled explosion also set several vehicles on fire. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the bombing. Rebels from the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) are active in Turkey’s Kurdish-majority southeast. More than 40,000 people, mostly Kurds, have been killed since the PKK took up arms in 1984 to demand autonomy. –VOA

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