The Freeland File
Aerospace & Defense
Global Market Data
Lipper Awards 2012
Personal Finance Video
Our best photos from the last 24 hours. Slideshow
Dental health linked to dementia risk: study
20 Aug 2012
Ethiopian strongman Meles dies abroad
Romney battles Obama for cash advantage in election
Nearly half of US doctors struggle with burnout: study
U.S. Army battling racists within its own ranks
Obama’s lead over Romney grows despite voters’ pessimism
Romney to announce vice presidential choice Saturday
Analysis: Are Israelis tough enough for a long war with Iran?
Our day's top images, in-depth photo essays and offbeat slices of life. See the best of Reuters photography. See more | Photo caption
A look at the world of twins. Slideshow
Suicides in China
A look at attempted suicides in China and their aftermath. Slideshow
Obama warns Assad U.S. could act
Japanese TV journalist killed in Aleppo gunfight
Mon, Aug 20 2012
Russia, China warn West on Syria after Obama threats
Obama warns of military action in Syria over chemical arms
Mon, Aug 20 2012
Free Syrian Army bans abuses, party politics
Mon, Aug 20 2012
Analysis & Opinion
Risk spills over in Middle East
President Obamaâ€™s imbalanced view on journalism
United Nations »
Obama: 'soft landing' for Assad unlikely
Mon, Aug 20 2012
U.N. monitors leave Syria
1 of 8. A man cries near the graves of his two children killed during a recent Syrian Air Force air strike in Azaz, some 47 km (29 miles) north of Aleppo, August 20, 2012.
Credit: Reuters/Youssef Boudlal
By Matt Spetalnick and Tom Perry
Tue Aug 21, 2012 2:44am EDT
WASHINGTON/BEIRUT (Reuters) - U.S. forces could move against Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, President Barack Obama warned, notably if he deploys his chemical weapons against rebels trying to overthrow him.
In some of his strongest language yet on Syria, on a day when U.N. observers pulled out after a fruitless bid for peace and Assad's forces mounted new attacks, the U.S. leader said Assad faced "enormous consequences" if he crossed a "red line" of even moving unconventional weapons in a threatening manner.
Seeking re-election in November, Obama noted that he had refrained "at this point" from ordering U.S. military engagement in Syria. But when he was asked at a White House news conference whether he might deploy forces, for example to secure Syrian chemical and biological weapons, he said his view could change.
"We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized," Obama said. "That would change my calculus."
Faced with a complex and explosive conflict at the heart of the Middle East, and with resolute support for Assad from Iran and from Russia and China at the United Nations, Washington and its Western allies have shown little appetite for more than hands-off help for the rebels, in contrast to their attacks on Libya's Muammar Gaddafi last year. Obama's comments, however, raised the prospect of some change, under certain conditions.
Syria last month acknowledged for the first time that it had chemical and biological weapons and said it could use them if foreign countries intervened. The threat drew strong warnings from Washington and its allies, although it is not clear how the Syrian armed forces might use such weapons in urban warfare.
"We cannot have a situation where chemical or biological weapons are falling into the hands of the wrong people," Obama told the impromptu news conference on Monday. He acknowledged he was not "absolutely confident" the stockpile was secure.
CALL TO QUIT
Calling again for Assad to step aside to allow a democratic transition but conceding that prospects for a "soft landing" to the conflict were dim, Obama said the weapons worried not only Washington but also its allies in the region, including Israel.
Obama has been reluctant to get the United States involved in another war in the Middle East, and refuses to arm rebels fighting a 17-month uprising against Assad, partly out of concern that some of those fighting against the Iranian-backed president are Islamist radicals equally hostile to the West.
However, Obama said, Assad should quit: "The international community has sent a clear message that rather than drag his country into civil war, he should move in the direction of a political transition," Obama said. "But at this point, the likelihood of a soft landing seems pretty distant."
When asked whether he envisioned the possibility of using U.S. forces at least to safeguard Syria's chemical arsenal, he said: "We're monitoring that situation very carefully. We have put together a range of contingency plans."
The U.S.-based Global Security website says there are four suspected chemical weapons sites in Syria producing the nerve agents VX, sarin and tabun. It does not cite its sources.
Fighting raged on in Syria, killing some 120 people on Monday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
U.N. military observers left Damascus after a four-month mission during which they became helpless spectators of the conflict, and activists said government forces launched air strikes near the capital that killed two dozen people.
A Japanese woman journalist died of wounds sustained in Aleppo, a Syrian activist group said in a statement.
The U.N. representatives blamed both sides for the failure of a truce brokered by outgoing special envoy Kofi Annan to hold: "Our mission failed because the two sides did not abide by their commitments," said one uniformed observer, who declined to be named, before seven United Nations cars left a Damascus hotel carrying some of the last members of a mission once 300 strong.
Rebel fighters have complained that foreign powers have supplied neither the quantity or quality of weaponry they need to defeat Assad, such as anti-aircraft missiles.
While outgunned by Assad's forces, rebels still managed to seize control of districts in Damascus and Aleppo last month, as well as several border crossings and parts of the north, before the army counter-attacked in Syria's two main cities.
With diplomatic efforts to end the war stymied by divisions between world powers and regional rivalries, Syria faces the prospect of a prolonged conflict that increasingly sets a mainly Sunni Muslim opposition against Assad's Alawite minority.
(Additional reporting by Marwan Makdesi in Damascus, Khaled Yacoub Oweis in Amman; Ece Tokasabay in Istanbul, Thomas Grove in Moscow, John Irish in Paris, Dominic Evans in Beirut and Alister Bull in Washington; Writing by Alastair Macdonald; Editing by Louise Ireland)
Related Quotes and News
We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
Be the first to comment on reuters.com.
Add yours using the box above.
Back to top
New York Legal
Support & Contact
Connect with Reuters
Our Flagship financial information platform incorporating Reuters Insider
An ultra-low latency infrastructure for electronic trading and data distribution
A connected approach to governance, risk and compliance
Our next generation legal research platform
Our global tax workstation
About Thomson Reuters
Thomson Reuters is the world's largest international multimedia news agency, providing investing news, world news, business news, technology news, headline news, small business news, news alerts, personal finance, stock market, and mutual funds information available on Reuters.com, video, mobile, and interactive television platforms. Thomson Reuters journalists are subject to an Editorial Handbook which requires fair presentation and disclosure of relevant interests.
NYSE and AMEX quotes delayed by at least 20 minutes. Nasdaq delayed by at least 15 minutes. For a complete list of exchanges and delays, please click here.