Entries in Chemical Weapons (12)


Chemical Weapon Use in Syria Challenges Obama’s ‘Red Line’

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Pressure is mounting for the Obama administration to act after obtaining evidence that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons on his own people, an act that crossed what Obama had previously called “a red line.”

“The president has laid down the line. It can't be a dotted line. It can't be anything other than a red line,” said Rep. Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee on ABC’s This Week Sunday.

He says that what Obama does next in Syria matters not just in Syria, but across the world. “[It is] more than just Syria. Iran is paying attention to this, North Korea is paying attention to this. So I think the options aren't huge but some action needs to be taken.”

The Obama administration has made it clear that they want to avoid American boots on the ground, says ABC News Chief Political Correspondent George Stephanopoulos. Though there are other actions the United States can take, it’s unclear how effective they will be against the Assad Regime.

During an appearance on NBC's Meet the Press, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, said that he believed the United States should set up a safe zone in Syria.

“A safe zone, arming the rebels, making sure that we help with the refugees, McCain suggested. He continued, saying we should “be prepared with an international force to go in and secure these stocks of chemical and perhaps biological weapons.”

That might not be so easy, explained ABC’s Martha Raddatz on This Week.

"None of that is easy. It sounds great, a safe haven, but that involves taking out anti aircraft. It involves kinetic action and it involves a great deal of risk,” Raddatz said.

“I think here you have to remember the comparison with Iraq--President Bush was looking for ways to go into Iraq. President Obama does not want to go into Syria,” she said.

McCain also noted that the concept of a “red line” might have been a mistake in the first place.

“What has happened here is the President drew red lines regarding chemical weapons thereby giving a green light to Bashir Assad to do anything short of that including scud missiles and helicopters gunships and air strikes and mass executions,” McCain said.

Whatever Obama decides to do in response to Assad crossing the “red line” by using chemical weapons, it’s not likely to happen just yet. Stephanopoulos says that the administration is verifying the intelligence to make sure that they’re positive such weapons were used before  they launch any sort of response.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Evidence of Chemical Weapons in Aleppo

DIMITAR DILKOFF/AFP/Getty Images(ALEPPO, Syria) -- Lying in a hospital bed north of Aleppo in Afrin, Yasser hasn't been told that his wife and children are dead, as his doctors don't think he can handle the shock in his fragile state.  His home was bombarded on April 13 by what he calls “chemicals in the air.”

For months, opponents of the Assad regime have accused the Syrian military of using unknown chemical weapons in rebel controlled territories, such as in Homs, Damascus and Aleppo. The Syrian government said rebels deployed a chlorine-based agent in Aleppo last month, and formally requested that the U.N. send observers to investigate, but it hasn't granted permission for the team to enter.

Given that the Obama administration has repeatedly stated that the use of chemical weapons in Syria would be considered a "game changer," confirmation that these weapons have been deployed could significantly alter the course of Syria's war.

Dr. Hassan, director of a hospital in Afrin who did not want his full name used, said he did not have evidence about who was responsible for the attack, or what kind of chemical was released. But he said the symptoms and treatment clearly indicate that chemical agents were used. Medical personnel involved refused to give their last names, citing fear of retaliation.

A Kurdish journalist who filmed the aftermath of the attack in Afrin was also recuperating at the hospital. He said there were two canisters in the house, one plastic and the other metal, with valves used to deploy the gas. He added that residents in the area say they heard a helicopter earlier that night, but none of the survivors confirmed the presence of a helicopter immediately prior to the strike.

Yasser's neighbors were the first to respond, and they described smelling a sharp, bitter odor that stung their eyes when they entered the home. One of the men tried to carry the baby, but collapsed once he reached him.

The two children died shortly after the attack. Their mother survived for a few hours, but her heart stopped at the hospital in Afrin, according to Turki, an anesthesiology technician.

Yasser’s neighbors told him that the house was intact, that the bomb was just gas and didn't cause much damage.

"I wish my whole house was destroyed rather than have to deal with this smell," he said. "I just want to know that my wife and children are fine."

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


UN to Investigate Possible Chemical Weapons Use in Syria

ABC News(ALEPPO, Syria) -- U.S. officials do not believe that chemical weapons were used in Tuesday's attack in Aleppo, Syria.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon announced on Thursday that the U.N. will investigate possible use of chemical weapons in the Syrian conflict. The announcement was welcomed by U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, who said that the governing body should investigate "any and all credible allegations of the possible use of chemical weapons in Syria."

Syria is one of few countries who have not signed the Chemical Weapons Convention's agreement, which internationally bans use of chemical weapons. According to BBC News, Syria is believed to have large stockpiles of mustard gas and other chemical weapons.

The U.S. officials said that while nothing was certain, Tuesday's attack likely did not include use of any chemical warfare. However, tear gas or other chemical agents not categorized as chemical weapons could have been used, according to the officials.

At least one report said that Syrian rebels believed the agent to be Echothiphate, a chemical agent in insecticides. Echothiphate is not categorized as a chemical weapon.

"President Obama has been clear that the use or transfer of chemical weapons is totally unacceptable. If Bashar Al-Assad and those under his command make the mistake of using chemical weapons, or fail to meet their obligation to secure them, then there will be consequences. Those responsible will be held accountable," Rice said in her statement.

In addition to the Tuesday attack, rebels accuse the government of carrying out another attack involving chemical weapons near Damascus. There have been no verified instances of chemical weapon use in the two year conflict.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


State Department Denies Report Syria Used Chemical Weapons

MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The State Department is denying a published report that the U.S. believes Syria may have already used chemical weapons against its own people.

Earlier this week, Foreign Policy magazine published an online story that a once classified U.S. diplomatic cable from a U.S. consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, concluded that the Syrian military probably deployed a chemical weapon in the city of Homs.

The White House has been adamant that any such action ordered by President Bashar al-Assad would have serious consequences.

However, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters at her briefing Wednesday that after studying the allegations made by Foreign Policy, "we found no credible evidence to corroborate or to confirm that chemical weapons were used."

Nuland did confirm that there was a cable from the consulate in Istanbul but there was nothing to corroborate what it might have said.

Earlier, White House National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor issued a statement about the report, saying, "The reporting we have seen from media sources regarding alleged chemical weapons incidents in Syria has not been consistent with what we believe to be true about the Syrian chemical weapons program."

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


US Ground Troops Could Help Secure Syrian Chemical Sites Only in Peaceful Situation, Says Defense Chief

Alessio Romenzi/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- At his news conference Thursday, Defense Secretary Panetta said the concern now about Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile is what to do with them should the Assad regime fall.  Panetta said U.S. troops might play a role in securing the sites only if there’s a permissive environment in post-Assad Syria, but that they’re not an option in a “hostile atmosphere.”

Panetta said the current discussion is that if Assad falls, “How do we secure the CBW sites? What do we do to deal with that situation? And that is a discussion that we are having.”

Panetta explained the possibility of U.S. ground troops playing a role in securing sites this way: “You always have to keep the possibility that, if there is a peaceful transition and international organizations get involved, that they might ask for assistance in that situation.”  However, he said “in a hostile situation, we're not planning for that.”  Panetta explained further that a U.S. troop option to secure the sites depends a lot on “what happens in a transition. Is there a permissive atmosphere? Or is it a hostile atmosphere? And that'll tell you a lot.”

Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Dempsey said the U.S. has done assessments of what might be needed for the scenarios Panetta mentioned.  “We're engaged in planning to develop options against alternative futures, you know, alternative future one, collaboration or cooperation, permissiveness, non-permissive, hostile, all of which would have different requirements.”  Dempsey acknowledged that training rebels was not one of those options.

Panetta said the “greater concern” about the Syrian stockpile is what steps the international community needs to do when Assad falls so “that there is a process and a procedure to ensure that we get our hands on securing those sites. That, I think, is the bigger challenge right now.”

His comments help explain why Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak was back at the Pentagon Wednesday night after a goodbye visit a month ago.  Panetta explained that the visit was part of the ongoing discussion with Syria’s neighbors about how to deal with Syria’s chemical weapons if Assad falls.  The talks include “what steps need to be taken in order to make sure that these sites are secured and that they don't wind up in the wrong hands.”

As part of those regional discussions Dempsey said he’d spoken with his Turkish, Israeli, Lebanese and Jordanian counterparts. The U.S. military has a small military planning team in Jordan. “Messaging, such as our president did, that -- that the use of chemical weapons would -- those that would be responsible would be held accountable," he said, adding, “I think that Syria must understand by now that the use of chemical weapons is unacceptable. And to that extent, it provides a deterrent value. But preventing it, if they decide to use it, I think we would be reacting.”

Interestingly Dempsey acknowledged that scientists have told U.S. officials that the Sarin the Syrians mixed in early December can only remain viable for 60 days. “That's what -- what the scientists tell us...I'd still be reluctant to handle it myself,” said Dempsey.

Dempsey said preventing the Syrians from using their chemical weapons is “almost unachievable” because U.S. intelligence would require constant surveillance “to actually see it before it happened, and that's -- that's unlikely, to be sure.”

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Is Syria's Chemical Weapons Threat Dying Down?

Department of Defense Photo by Glenn Fawcett(KUWAIT CITY) -- During his flight to Kuwait on Tuesday, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta addressed the threat of the Syrian government using chemical weapons against rebel fighters.

While Panetta noted that the U.S. hasn't seen any new intel indicating aggressive steps to move chemical weapons, he told reporters on board that "we continue to monitor it very closely and we continue to make clear to them that they should not under any means make use of these chemical weapons against their own population.  That would produce serious consequences.”

The defense secretary said he would "like to believe" that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has gotten the message, but that optimism could easily change.

"It’s also clear that the opposition continues to make gains in Syria and our concern is that if they feel like the regime is threatened with collapse that they might resort to these kinds of weapons,” he said.

Panetta is in Kuwait to visit troops and meet with officials.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Warning to Syria on Chemical Weapons Stemmed from Airfield Intel

Hemera/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Alarming intelligence about Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile earlier this week had to do with the apparent loading of elements of dangerous sarin nerve gas into bombs at Syrian airfields, a senior U.S. official said.

American officials remain concerned by the Syrians’ intent behind the move, though their concerns have eased in the past 48 hours since the move became public.

Concerns were raised this weekend after U.S. intelligence uncovered movements on or near Syrian airfields, the senior U.S. official said.

According to the official, the U.S. believed that Syria loaded components of sarin gas into bombs near or on those Syrian airfields.

The bombs were not loaded onto aircraft.  Though it is assumed that is what the intent may have been, the official said there was no way to know for certain.

On Monday, concern over the Syrian moves led to a strong warning from President Obama to the Syrian regime led by President Bashar Assad.

“I want to make it absolutely clear to Assad and those under his command: The world is watching,” he said.

“The use of chemical weapons is and would be totally unacceptable,” he warned.  “And if you make the tragic mistake of using these weapons, there will be consequences and you will be held accountable.”

U.S officials stressed that over the past 48 hours there have not been any major movements at the chemical weapons sites that were of concern.

The concerns of U.S. officials seem to have eased in the days since Obama’s warning to Syria as it appeared Assad may have gotten the message not to use the weapons.

Syrian motives for the move remain unclear. One official said there was nothing to suggest that Assad ordered the move.  The official said there is speculation that it may have been a preparatory move by Syrian military officials in case an order should come for their use inside Syria.

In recent weeks, there has been an escalation of the two-year rebellion against Assad’s regime.

Syria has dozens of sites that house chemical weapons including sarin, VX nerve gas and mustard gas.  However, the ones adjacent to or on Syrian airfields are the ones specifically drawing the attention of American officials.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Obama Warns Syria Use of Chemical Weapons ‘Totally Unacceptable’

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama Monday warned Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that the use of chemical weapons by his regime would be “totally unacceptable” and that he would be “held accountable.”

“I want to make it absolutely clear to Assad and those under his command, the world is watching,” Obama said at the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction symposium in Washington.

“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.

The president stopped short of detailing those consequences.

The warning comes as U.S. intelligence has detected Syrian movement of its chemical weapons stockpile in recent days.

Earlier today the White House reiterated that use or proliferation of chemical weapons by the Syrian military is a “red line” that would prompt U.S. action.

“We will continue to support the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people, engaging with the opposition… providing them with humanitarian aid and working for a transition to a Syria that’s free of the Assad regime,” Obama said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Obama Suggests Military Action in Reponse to Syrian Chemical Threat

Sasha Mordovets/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama warned Syria on Monday that the U.S. would consider military action if President Bashar al-Assad's government either moves or uses its arsenal of chemical or biological weapons against his opposition.

The administration has previously shied away from suggesting any direct intervention in the 18-month-long conflict that has left an estimated 21,000 people dead and threatens to spread to the rest of the Middle East.

However, the prospect of Syria's stockpile of chemical and biological weapons falling into terrorists hands prompted Obama to issue his most forceful comments yet about the situation.

During a White House press briefing, the president said, "We have put together a range of contingency plans.  We have communicated in no uncertain terms with every player in the region that that’s a red line for us."

As of now, al-Assad said he would only use these unconventional weapons that include mustard gas, sarin nerve agent and cyanide against invading armies.

The administration has been pressed by certain war hawks on Capitol Hill, particularly Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, to offer more direct assistance to rebels battling al-Assad's forces in what has become a do-or-die war for control of Syria.

Establishing a no-fly zone over Syria is more problematic than it was in Libya because al-Assad's air defense is more powerful, with about 20 times more surface-to-air missiles that could shoot down enemy aircraft.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Russia to Syria: Don't Use Your Chemical Weapons

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(MOSCOW) -- No matter what Syria is saying about its alleged arsenal of chemical weapons, strong ally Russia contends Damascus shouldn't even think about using poisonous gases in its conflict with rebel forces.

The warning came Tuesday following a Syrian government spokesman revealing that his government indeed has chemical weapons that would only be used on aggressors from outside the country but then apparently backing off from the admission.

That was enough truth for Moscow, however, which told Damascus to adhere to a 1968 ratification of a 1925 international protocol that prohibits chemical weapons as a method of warfare.

In a statement, the Russia Foreign Ministry said it "proceeds from the assumption that Syrian authorities will continue to strictly adhere to the undertaken international obligations."

Russia has been criticized by the West for blocking resolutions in the United Nations that would possibly force a regime change in Syria.  However, Moscow has also shown impatience at times with the way Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has conducted the war against opposition forces.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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