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Obama warns of Syria over chemical weapons

Updated: 2012-12-04 10:28
( Xinhua)

WASHINGTON - US President Barack Obama on Monday warned Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of "consequences" in using chemical weapons in the Arab country's 21-month conflict.

Addressing at the National Defense University in Washington, the US president repeated a warning echoed hours earlier by his top diplomat, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in Prague, the Czech Republic.

"Today, I want to make it absolutely clear to al-Assad and those under his command, the world is watching," Obama said at an event on securing nuclear weapons materials in former Soviet Union region.

"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," he said.

"We simply cannot allow the 21st century to be darkened by the worst weapons of the 20th century," Obama declared, vowing to continue efforts to make a transition in Syria.

He did not elaborate on what exactly the consequences were.

Earlier in the day, his press secretary Jay Carney said "Contingency planning of all kinds is a responsible thing to do."

Press reports quoted US officials as saying that intelligence had detected movement of chemical weapons in Syria in recent days, prompting Clinton to reiterate US "red line" on the issue in Prague.

"This is a red line for the United States," she said. "I am not going to telegraph in any specifics what we would do in the event of credible evidence that the Assad administration 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."

Obama set the "red line" in August, warning against any use or proliferation of the chemical weapons.

In response to Clinton's remarks, Syrian Foreign Ministry has reiterated its pledge not to use the stockpile against its own people, urging Washington to stop fabricating such claims.

"Syria has repeatedly stressed to the American side directly, or through the Russian friends, that it will not use such weapons, even if they existed, against its people under any circumstance," the Syrian ministry said, noting the US made a similar claim about Iraq before it invaded the country in 2003.

Syria's stockpile is believed to include sarin nerve agent, mustard gas and cyanide.

Carney raised the prospect of the Syrian government using its chemical weapons at a White House press briefing.

"As the opposition makes strategic advances, and grows in strength, the al-Assad regime has been unable to halt the opposition's progress through conventional means," said Carney. "And we are concerned that in an increasingly beleaguered regime, having found its escalation of violence through conventional means inadequate, (it) might be considering the use of chemical weapons against the Syrian people."