Obama warns Syria over chemical weapons
US president says his forces could move against Bashar al-Assad if Syrian leader deploys chemical weapons against rebels
Last Modified: 21 Aug 2012 06:53
Obama said 'a red line for us is we start seeing ... chemical weapons moving around or being utilised' [GALLO/GETTY]

Barack Obama has warned that US forces could move against Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad if he deploys chemical weapons against rebels trying to overthrow him.

The US president's comments came as a female Japanese reporter was killed while covering clashes in the northern city of Aleppo.

In some of his strongest language yet on Syria, Obama told a White House news conference on Monday that Assad faced "enormous consequences" if he crossed a "red line" of even moving unconventional weapons in a threatening manner.

Obama noted that he had refrained "at this point" from ordering US military engagement, but when he was asked 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 utilised," he said. "That would change my calculus."

'Wrong hands'

Faced with a complex and explosive conflict, and with resolute support for Assad from Iran, and from Russia and China at the UN, Washington and its Western allies have shown little appetite for more than hands-off help for the rebels.

The stance is in contrast to their attacks on Libya's Muammar Gaddafi last year.

Last month, Syria 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.

Reporter killed

Activists said more than 130 people were killed in Syria on Monday.

In-depth coverage of escalating violence across Syria

Six people, including two children and two women, were reported killed in the southern city of Daraa, birthplace of the country's 18-month-old uprising.

In the commercial capital Aleppo, nine civilians were said to have died, including two women, a nine-year-old boy and a five-year-old girl.

A female Japanese journalist was killed after being caught in gunfire in Aleppo, the foreign ministry in Tokyo said on Tuesday.

The dead reporter was 45-year-old Mika Yamamoto, said an official in charge of Japanese nationals' safety abroad.

A colleague travelling with her identified the body, the official said.

Yamamoto worked for the small Japan Press news agency and had also covered the war in Afghanistan and the Iraq conflict, the company's website said.

She had been reporting on clashes between troops and rebel fighters in Suleiman al-Halabi, a district of Aleppo, the observatory said.

Yamamoto was the fourth foreign reporter killed in Syria since March 2011.

The opposition Syrian National Council said that government forces using combat helicopters, tanks and heavy artillery had carried out "savage" attacks on Herak, south of Damascus, warning that food and medicines were  running out.

Fighting also flared in southern parts of Damascus as the army battled pockets of resistance despite claiming it retook most of the capital last month.

A total of 23,000 people have now been killed since March last year, according to the Observatory, while the UN puts the death toll at around 17,000.


Topics in this article
Featured on Al Jazeera
Muslim volunteers face questioning and threat of arrest, while aid has been disrupted or blocked, charities say.
Six months on, outrage and sorrow over the mass schoolgirl abduction has disappeared - except for families in Nigeria.
ISIL combatants seeking an 'exit strategy' from Mideast conflict need positive reinforcement back home, analysts say.
European nation hit by a wave of Islamophobia as many young fighters join ISIL in Syria and Iraq.
Lack of child protection laws means abandoned and orphaned kids rely heavily on the care of strangers.
At least 25 tax collectors have been killed since 2012 in Mogadishu, a city awash in weapons and abject poverty.
Since she was 16-years-old, Scottish Nationalist Party's Sturgeon has strove for independence from the UK.
Armed group's ransom success with German hostages marks a re-emergence, as authorities investigate ISIL links.
Western nations are moving into the resource-rich country after decades of disinterest, challenging China's interests.