U.S. warns Syria against using chemical weapons
WASHINGTON -- U.S. and allied intelligence have detected Syrian movement of chemical weapons components in recent days, a senior U.S. defense official said Monday, as the Obama administration strongly warned the Assad regime against using them.
A senior defense official said intelligence officials have detected activity around more than one of Syria's chemical weapons sites in the last week. The defense official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about intelligence matters.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, in Prague for meetings with Czech officials, reiterated President Barack Obama's declaration that Syrian action on chemical weapons was a "red line" for the United States that would prompt action.
"We have made our views very clear: This is a red line for the United States," Clinton told reporters. "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."
Syria said Monday it would not use chemical weapons against its own people.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Syria "would not use chemical weapons -- if there are any -- against its own people under any circumstances." Syria has been careful never to confirm that it has any chemical weapons.
The use of chemical weapons would be a major escalation in Assad's crackdown on his foes and would draw international condemnation.
At the White House, press secretary Jay Carney said, "We are concerned that in 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. And as the president has said, any use or proliferation of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime would cross a red line for the United States."
Administration officials would not detail what that response might be.
An administration official said the trigger for U.S. action of some kind is the use of chemical weapons or movement with the intent to use or provide them to a terrorist group like Hezbollah.
The United States is trying to determine whether the recent movement detected in Syria falls into any of those categories, the official said. The administration official was speaking on condition of anonymity as this person was not authorized to speak publicly about the issue.
The senior defense official said the U.S. does not believe that any Syrian action beyond the movement of components is imminent.