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Dhaka Tribune

Proof of Syrian chemical weapons would be 'game-changer', says Obama

Update : 28 Apr 2013, 08:38 AM

President Barack Obama warned the Syrian regime on Friday that proof it had used chemical weapons on its civilian population would be a “game-changer”, but cautioned that more evidence was required.

Speaking at the White House, Obama said that confirmation Bashar al-Assad had deployed chemical agents in the protracted Syrian civil war would alter his administration's “calculus”, but stopped short of declaring that a “red line” had been crossed.

Obama's cautious comments reflected the lack of a consensus in Washington over how to respond to claims that Syria has used sarin gas in recent incidents. US congressmen briefed by secretary of state John Kerry on Friday said the most likely option would involve joining other countries in arming specific rebel groups.

Sitting alongside King Abdullah of Jordan at the White House, Obama said that the international community “could not stand by and permit the systematic use of weapons like chemical weapons on civilian populations”.

But he left open the possibility that their use in Syria would not be proved: “I think that, in many ways, a line has been crossed when we see tens of thousands of innocent people being killed by a regime.

“But the use of chemical weapons and the dangers that poses to the international community, to neighbours of Syria, the potential for chemical weapons to get into the hands of terrorists – all of those things add increased urgency to what is already a significant security problem and humanitarian problem in the region.”

On Thursday, the White House said that US intelligence had concluded with “varying degrees of confidence” that the Syrian government has twice used chemical weapons. British officials say there is evidence of sarin use in at least three incidents in Khan al-Assal near Aleppo, in Homs and near Damascus.

In London, the British prime minister David Cameron described the evidence of chemical weapons use as “limited but growing”, and played down any suggestion British troops could be deployed in Syria as a consequence, saying only that it represented a red line for the international community “to do more”.

He also stopped well short of suggesting that confirmation of chemical weapons use would necessarily trigger military action. “I think what President Obama said was absolutely right – that this should form for the international community a red line for us to do more.”

There has been speculation that western special forces could be sent in to secure chemical weapons stockpiles in Syria, but Cameron said he could not envisage British troops on the ground. “I don't want to see that and I don't think that is likely to happen, but I think we can step up the pressure on the regime, work with our partners, work with the opposition in order to bring about the right outcome,” he said.

In the Khan al-Assal incident on 19 March, the Syrian government and the rebels claimed that chemical agents had been used against them. British officials say that Syrian army troops appear to have been affected in that incident but suggest it was either case of “friendly fire”, a projectile going astray, or a deliberate attempt to implicate the rebels.

The UN has launched an investigation in cooperation with the Organisation for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the world's experts on the subject. However, because of disagreements with the Syrian government, some of the investigators are still in Cyprus waiting for a green light, and some have returned to their home countries.

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