Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Monday warned Syria’s government that the U.S. was “planning to take action” if Damascus used chemical weapons against opposition forces.
“We are certainly planning to take action if that eventuality were to occur,” said Clinton, according to reports.
“I'm not going to telegraph in any specifics what we would do in the event of credible evidence that the Assad regime has resorted to using chemical weapons against their own people,” said the secretary.
The regime of Syrian leader Bashar al Assad has been waging a violent campaign against opposition forces seeking his ouster. The conflict, which has raged for over a year, has brought about strong international condemnation of Assad, whose regime has used deadly force often, resulting in mass civilian casualties, to stem the uprising.
Clinton said that despite the already “reprehensible” violence that the regime had carried out, chemical warfare would represent a clear escalation, with international ramifications.
"We once again issue a very strong warning to the Assad regime that their behavior is reprehensible, their actions against their own people have been tragic," Clinton added. "But there is no doubt that there's a line between even the horrors that they've already inflicted on the Syrian people and moving to what would be an internationally condemned step of utilizing their chemical weapons."
Clinton’s comments come as news reports suggest that Syrian forces have made plans to move chemical stockpiles. Clinton, however, would not confirm those reports or say if the administration believes Damascus is moving closer toward deploying those weapons.
The U.S. has warned Syria’s regime before about escalating its use of force against its own people and has pressed Assad to step down from power.
But efforts to achieve a diplomatic solution to the violence or to impose tough sanctions on Assad have been blocked by Russia and China, Syria’s allies at the United Nations.
During the U.S. presidential campaign, Republicans charged the Obama administration with failing to lead on Syria, with some GOP lawmakers, led by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), calling for more military assistance to be provided to rebel groups.
The Obama administration has said it will continue to provide humanitarian aid to Syrian rebels and last month helped push a shake-up of the opposition leadership to better represent both exiled leaders and forces in the country battling Assad.