US President Barack Obama on Monday warned that the use or deployment of chemical or biological weapons in Syria could prompt the United States to intervene militarily in the ongoing conflict in the unrest-hit Middle East nation.
Speaking to reporters during an unscheduled appearance in the White House briefing room on Monday, Obama stressed that the possible use of chemical and biological weapons in Syria remains an issue of major concern for the United States as well as its allies in the region.
"We cannot have a situation where chemical or biological weapons are falling into the hands of the wrong people. It doesn't just include Syria. It would concern allies in the region, including Israel, and it would concern us," Obama said.
Noting that he has not ordered US military intervention in Syria "at this point," Obama warned that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would face "enormous consequences" if he uses chemical and biological weapons to quell the 17-month-long upraising against his rule.
"We've been very clear 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," the US President added.
There has been considerable concern that Syria's chemical weapons could fall into hostile hands, in particular insurgents fighting the government, or be used by to defend the regime. Last month, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon voiced concerns about the possible use of chemical weapons in Syria, and urged the international community to ensure that no such weapons are used in the unrest-hit Middle East nation.
Nevertheless, the Syrian regime dismissed Ban's concerns over its chemical and biological weapons stockpile, and said that it will only use such destructive weapons against external aggression. Insisting that such weapons will not be used not against its own citizens, the regime stressed that the weapon stocks were secure.
Exact volumes of chemical weapons in the Syrian stockpile are not yet known. Nevertheless, CIA has reportedly estimated that Syria possess several hundred liters of chemical weapons, with hundreds of tons being produced annually.
Besides, Syria is not a party to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the implementing body of the Chemical Weapons Convention. The Convention aims to eliminate an entire category of weapons of mass destruction by prohibiting the development, production, acquisition, stockpiling, retention, transfer or use of chemical weapons by states.
Currently, heavy fighting is progressing between government forces and armed rebels opposed to President Bashar al-Assad's rule in Syria. Although Syrian security forces have managed to retain their control over capital Damascus, Syria's largest city of Aleppo as well as several other towns and cities have been the center of intense fighting in recent weeks.
More than 15,000 people, mostly civilians, are believed to have been killed and tens of thousands displaced since anti- regime protests broke out in Syria in March 2011. The Opposition, however, claims the actual death toll to be closer to 20,000.
The conflict is now viewed as a civil war by most of the international community. In addition to those trapped inside Syria, the conflict has forced hundreds of thousands of Syrians to seek refuge in neighboring Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan. The conflict is now threatening to spill over to neighboring countries and is increasingly becoming sectarian in nature.
by RTT Staff Writer
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