US President Barack Obama speaks to the Nunn-Lugar
Cooperative Threat Reduction symposium at the National
Defense University in Washington. REUTERS/Larry Downing
President Barack Obama has issued a warning to Syrian
President Bashar al-Assad not to use chemical weapons against
Syrian opposition forces, saying there would be consequences if
he were to do so.
"I want to make it absolutely clear to Assad and those under
his command: The world is watching," Obama said in a speech
to a gathering of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons
"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," Obama said.
He did not say how the United States might respond, but White
House spokesman Jay Carney said earlier that "contingency
planning" was under way when asked whether the use of
military force was an option.
It was unclear what has motivated US officials to think that
Syria might be on the verge of using chemical weapons.
An American official said the United States is concerned that
Syria may be preparing to combine the chemicals needed to
make sarin gas.
As Assad's government has shown signs of increasing strain in
response to recent advances made by the rebels, Carney said
the United States has grown concerned that the Syrian
president might be considering the use of chemical weapons.
This would, Carney said, "cross a red line for the United
Some US Republicans have been critical of the Obama
administration's response to the Syrian crisis as thousands
of people have been killed during the country's civil war.
During the presidential campaign, Obama's Republican
challenger, Mitt Romney, said the United States should
facilitate the arming of Syrian rebels, a step Obama has not
Obama said in his speech on Monday that the United States
would continue to support the legitimate aspirations of the
Syrian people, engaging with the opposition and providing
them with humanitarian aid. He said his goal is a transition
in Syria to a country that is free of Assad.