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Obama draws 'red line' for Syria on chemical and biological weapons

 

President Barack Obama said he would have to rethink his current opposition to U.S. military engagement in Syria if the regime there were to use or move its chemical and biological weapons.

The president told NBC's Chuck Todd that he couldn't be "absolutely confident" that the stockpiles of weapons possessed by Bashar al-Assad's regime were completely secure.

"What I'm saying is we're monitoring that situation very carefully," Obama said in a surprise appearance in the White House briefing room.

But if the Assad regime were to use its weapons stockpiles, or alternatively, move it around, Obama suggested military action could be on the table.

"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," the president said. "That would change my calculus. That would change my equation."

Earlier this month, when asked about contingency planning for the Syrian conflict, Secretary Hillary Clinton drew the "red line" at only the use of chemical weapons.

"Both the minister [Turkey Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu] and I saw eye to eye on the many tasks that are ahead of us, and the kinds of contingencies that we have to plan for, including the one you mentioned in the horrible event that chemical weapons were used. And everyone has made it clear to the Syrian regime that is a red line for the world," Clinton said at the time.

But today, he made sure to emphasize that all major players in the region have been informed of where his line falls.

"We have communicated in no uncertain terms with every player in the region that that's a red line for us and that there would be enormous consequences if we start seeing movement on the chemical weapons front or the use of chemical weapons," he said. "That would change my calculations significantly."

Obama also made a point of saying that the issue of chemical weapons doesn’t just concern Syria and the United States, but also allies in the region including Israel.

While the international community would still like to see a political solution to the violence in Syria, Obama said, “at this point the likelihood of a soft landing seems pretty distant."

The U.S. will most likely provide even more monetary humanitarian assistance to help those fleeing the Syrian conflict on top of the $82 million the government has already given. According to USAID, the United Nations “estimates that approximately 2 million people in Syria are in need of humanitarian assistance, approximately 1 million people are internally displaced, and more than 140,000 people have fled to the neighboring countries of Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, and Iraq.”