The White House and its allies are weighing military options to secure Syria’s chemical and biological weapons, after U.S. intelligence reports show the Syrian regime may be readying those weapons and may be desperate enough to use them, U.S. officials said Monday.
President Barack Obama, in a speech at the National Defense University on Monday, pointedly warned Syrian President Bashar Assad not to use the weapons.
“Today I want to make it absolutely clear to Assad and those under his command: The world is watching,” Obama said. “The use of chemical weapons is and would be totally unacceptable. And if you make the tragic mistake of using these weapons, there will be consequences, and you will be held accountable.”
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, in Prague for meetings with Czech officials, said she wouldn’t outline any specifics.
“But suffice it to say, we are certainly planning to take action if that eventuality were to occur,” Clinton said.
Options being considered range from aerial strikes to limited raids by regional forces to secure the stockpiles, according to one current U.S. official and one former U.S. official briefed on the matter. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
The administration remains reluctant to dispatch U.S. forces into Syria, but a U.S. special-operations training team is in neighboring Jordan, teaching troops there how to safely secure such sites together with other troops from the region, the officials said.
The warnings come after U.S. intelligence detected signs the Syrian regime was moving the chemical- weapons components around within several of Syria’s chemical-weapons sites in recent days, according to a senior U.S. defense official and two U.S. officials speaking Monday. Two officials said the activities did not involve movement of components in or out of various sites, but the movement was confined to within the individual locations.