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Obama Warns Syria That Using Chemical Weapons Crosses ‘Red Line’

President Obama waded further into the Syrian conflict at a news conference today when he warned Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that using chemical weapons would be crossing a line with the United States.

It was considered Obama’s strongest language to date in warning Assad about the consequences of chemical weapons in a conflict that has thus far claimed as many as 18,000 lives, according to the United Nations (though Assad’s opposition puts the figure at 23,000).

“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 chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus,” Obama said at an impromptu White House news conference—prompted by press complaints that the president hadn’t held one in two months. “That would change my equation. . . . We’re monitoring that situation very carefully. We have put together a range of contingency plans.

Back in July, the president warned that Assad would be “held accountable by the international community” if he made the “tragic mistake” of deploying chemical munitions.

After the president’s statement, administration officials wanted to issue assurances that the White House had no desire to enter into another military operation right now.

But “there’s a deterrent effect in making clear how seriously we take the use of chemical weapons or giving them to some proxy force,” the official told the Washington Post.

Syria has never acknowledged that it possesses chemical weapons, but experts believe the country has stockpiles of mustard gas, VX and other nerve agents.

In fact, in documents made public by WikiLeaks suggest that Syria amassed its chemical capabilities through trades with Iran and by procuring from Western countries “dual use” precursor chemicals, that is, materials with civilian uses that can be utilized to make chemical weapons.

 

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