The Obama administration stressed anew Monday that it wouldn’t accept any use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime, as Western intelligence agencies detected movement of Syria’s stockpiled weapons of mass destruction. In response, Damascus stated it “would not use” such weapons against Syrians.
The US and allied intelligence detected Syrian movement of chemical weapons components in recent days, a senior US defense official told the Associated Press, as the Obama administration again warned the Assad regime against using chemical weapons on Syrian rebels.
The senior defense official said intelligence officials have detected activity around more than one of Syria’s chemical weapons sites in the last week. The defense official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about intelligence matters.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, in Prague for meetings with Czech officials, reiterated President Barack Obama’s declaration that Syrian action on chemical weapons was a “red line” for the United States that would prompt action.
“We have made our views very clear: This is a red line for the United States,” Clinton told reporters. “I’m not going to telegraph in any specifics what we would do in the event of credible evidence that the Assad regime has resorted to using chemical weapons against their own people. But suffice it to say, we are certainly planning to take action if that eventuality were to occur.”
She didn’t address the issue of the fresh activity at Syrian chemical weapons depots, but insisted that Washington would address any threat that arises.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Damascus said in response to the reports that Syria “would not use chemical weapons — if there are any — against its own people under any circumstances.”
Damascus has been careful over the years not to confirm such weapons were in the regimes arsenal.
Israel has reportedly asked Jordan for permission to attack the storage centers of Syria’s nonconventional weapons, but the Hashemite kingdom has not approved.
A senior defense official in Washington said the US does not believe that any Syrian action beyond the movement of components is imminent.
Syria is believed to have several hundred ballistic surface-to-surface missiles capable of carrying chemical warheads.
Its arsenal is a particular threat to American allies Turkey and Israel. Obama singled out the threat posed by the nonconventional weapons earlier this year as a potential cause for deeper US involvement in Syria’s civil war. Up to now, the United States has opposed military intervention or providing arms support to Syria’s rebels for fear of further militarizing a conflict that activists say has killed more than 40,000 people since March 2011.
Clinton said that while the actions of President Bashar Assad’s government have been deplorable, chemical weapons would bring the enormity to a new level.
“We once again issue a very strong warning to the Assad regime that their behavior is reprehensible, their actions against their own people have been tragic,” she said. “But there is no doubt that there’s a line between even the horrors that they’ve already inflicted on the Syrian people and moving to what would be an internationally condemned step of utilizing their chemical weapons.”
While the US and other countries warned Assad’s regime against the use of chemical weapons, the Atlantic reported Israel was ready to take a preemptive strike at the storage facilities before the nonconventional warheads fell into the wrong hands.
Though Israel could attack Syria on its own, it was worried Jordan could suffer as a result of such a strike on chemical weapons depots, some of which are located near the border with Jordan, the report said.
Israel was ready to strike Syria, an unnamed source told the Atlantic, but “they were told that from the Jordanian perspective, the time was not right.”
Over the weekend, The New York Times reported that unusual activity at chemical weapons depots suggested that the Syrian regime may be mulling the deployment of its nonconventional weapons. There are fears that the Assad government, which maintains a tentative hold on power in the civil war-ravaged country, may use its chemical arsenal in a last-ditch attempt to thwart rebel forces.