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|December 20, 2014|
Clinton: U.S. will act if Syria uses chemical weapons
PRAGUE--The United States will not tolerate any use of chemical weapons in Syria and will act quickly if that threat appears imminent, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Monday, as heavy fighting continued around the Syrian capital.
Syria’s Foreign Ministry said the government planned no such escalation of the 20-month civil war.
“This is a red line for the United States,” Clinton said. “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 to say we are certainly planning to take action.”
Citing a deteriorating security situation in Syria amid increasingly brutal warfare between the government of President Bashar al-Assad and rebel forces, the United Nations announced Monday that it is withdrawing “all non-essential international staff” from the country. Radhouane Nouicer, the U.N. regional humanitarian coordinator for Syria, said up to a quarter of about 100 international staffers working for several U.N. agencies in Syria could leave by the end of this week and that remaining staffers would be restricted to the capital, Damascus.
The Obama administration remains opposed to direct military intervention in Syria for now, but the possible gassing of civilians could force President Obama’s hand. Chemical weapons, which could be delivered by missile or rocket outside Syria’s borders, also threaten U.S. allies, including Turkey.
Clinton will argue for additional NATO antimissile protection for Turkey during meetings with alliance members Tuesday and Wednesday, U.S. officials said.
Syria is believed to have several hundred ballistic surface-to-surface missiles capable of carrying chemical warheads.
Clinton did not directly address new reports that Assad may be moving chemical weapons or making other possible preparations to use his known stockpile. But the Associated Press, citing an unnamed U.S. defense official, reported that international “intelligence sources” have detected signs in recent days that Syria has been moving chemical weapons components to new locations.
The official, who according to AP spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about intelligence matters, said officials don’t believe any developments with the weapons are imminent but are trying to figure out what the Syrians are doing.
Syria’s Foreign Ministry strongly denied that the military would resort to chemical weapons, news services reported. “Syria has stressed repeatedly that it will not use these types of weapons, if they were available, under any circumstances against its people,” the ministry said in reply to Clinton.
Clinton spoke Monday in the Czech Republic, which is acting as the United States’ diplomatic agent in Syria since the U.S. Embassy there was shuttered. Her statement echoed one made in August by President Obama, who declared that Assad’s deployment or use of chemical weapons would be a “red line” for U.S. intervention in the Syrian civil war, which has killed an estimated 40,000 people.
The Obama administration has never publicly spelled out how it would respond, but one option is an airstrike to destroy weapons before they could be used.
“We once again issue a very strong warning to the Assad regime that their behavior is reprehensible,” Clinton said. “Their actions against their own people have been tragic. But there is no doubt that there is a line between even the horrors that they have already inflicted on the Syrian people and moving to what would be an internationally condemned step of utilizing their chemical weapons.”
Czech Republic Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg did not repeat Clinton’s tough denunciations of Assad. He said chemical weapons would also pose a danger in the hands of anti-Assad rebels.
“This chaotic situation of a civil war is, with the existence of these kind of arms in the country, highly dangerous,” Schwarzenberg said.
Assad opponents have repeatedly warned that, if cornered, he could turn to gassing rebel areas.
The rebels have begun to advance quickly in recent weeks after months of slow sieges to cut off army routes and supplies. The capital has been the main focus for Assad’s military in recent days. Security forces are pushing back hard against the rebels and trying to seal Damascus off from rebel-dominated suburbs.
Rebels had been planning an advance on the capital, Assad’s power base, Reuters news agency reported.
NATO is expected to approve new missile defenses for Turkey at a meeting Tuesday, but a U.S. official traveling with Clinton said there are no plans to broaden that defense to include a no-fly zone or other more assertive military measures in Syria.
The official spoke on the condition of anonymity ahead of a closed-door session of NATO foreign ministers.
“Turkey has made a request for assistance in dealing with a potential threat, and this request is in the context of defensive purposes,” the official said. The deployment would not create a de facto safe zone for rebel fighters because it applies only to Turkish airspace, the official said.
“I think we’ve said we’re always prepared to look at ways in which we can help the people of Syria,” the official said. “We have not decided to implement a no-fly zone, and NATO hasn’t decided to implement a no-fly zone. But that’s a separate discussion from the defensive deployment that ministers will be looking at now in terms of Patriots.”
The Patriot missiles expected to be deployed in Turkey would come from the United States, Germany and the Netherlands. Those governments would have to issue separate approvals after the NATO decision. The missile defenses are probably several weeks from deployment, the official said. (Source: The Washington Post)
Story Date: December 4, 2012