The United States warned the Syrian government on Monday against using chemical weapons in its ongoing civil war. “Today I want to make it absolutely clear to [Syrian President Bashar al-] Assad…The world is watching,” President Obama said, adding that “the use of chemical weapons is and would be totally unacceptable.” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton later echoed the president, saying that the use of such weapons “is a red line for the United States” and would result in the U.S. taking action, although she refrained from specifically mentioning what that action would entail.
These new warnings come on the heels of reports that the Syrian regime has issued orders to move chemical ingredients together that are usually stored separately for safety purposes. When combined, the chemicals form the deadly nerve agent sarin. The movement of the chemical components reportedly occurred within a number of Syria’s chemical weapons sites rather than between sites. According to a senior U.S. official, the movements are “indications of preparations” for the possible use of the weapons.
A satellite image of one of Syria’s two dozen chemical weapons bases. (Photo: CBS News/DigitalGlobe)
The potential deployment of chemical warheads has worried Turkey in particular. After a Turkish request last month, NATO on Tuesday agreed to send U.S., German, and Dutch Patriot missile batteries to defend Turkey against missiles that may be fired across the Turkish-Syrian border. NATO officials stressed that the move does not represent the first step of a no-fly zone, and that they would not intercept missiles in Syrian airspace. Nevertheless, it will bring European and U.S. troops to Syria’s border for the first time since the start of Syria’s uprising.
Asad’s previously resolute outlook may be shifting, with NATO gearing up for a presence along his border and rebels encroaching upon Damascus. These events may well hasten a terrifying scenario, and force Washington to decide whether or not it is willing to translate its warnings into actions.