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The Battle for Syria

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White House Warns Syria it Will be 'Held Accountable' for Chemical Weapon Use

December 3rd 2012

Syrian Chemical Weapons

The White House issued a stern warning to Syria on Monday, telling its leaders that the use of chemical weapons would “cross a red line.”

“They will be held accountable by the United States and the international community if they use chemical weapons or fail to meet their obligation to secure them,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said, adding that use of the weapons “would cross a red line for the United States.”

The press secretary did not say whether the mere movement of the weapons could spur an American response, but expressed grave concern that the Syrian government could be weighing the use of the weapons.

“As the opposition makes strategic advances and grows in strength, the Assad regime has been unable to halt the opposition's progress through conventional means,” Carney said Monday. “And we are concerned that an increasingly beleaguered regime, having found its escalation of violence through conventional means inadequate, might be considering the use of chemical weapons against the Syrian people.” Carney also did not explicitly discuss what an American response would consist of.

The Associated Press reported Monday that defense officials had detected activity around multiple chemical weapons sites maintained by the Assad regime. The comments from the White House largely mirrored similar remarks made by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton earlier Monday at a briefing with reporters in Prague.

“We have made our views very clear: This is a red line for the United States,” Clinton said, according to the AP. “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.”

Intelligence officials are concerned that the chemical weapons could be used either against rebels within Syria or against American allies in the region, including Turkey and Israel. The Obama administration has thus far rejected calls to help aid Syrian rebels, arguing that to do so would further escalate a conflict that has killed tens of thousands.

“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,” Clinton 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.”

Justin Sink writes for The Hill, from where this article is adapted.

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