By Jeremy Herb and Carlo Muñoz - 07/23/12 04:54 PM EDT
A Syrian government official threatened to use chemical and biological weapons against any invading foreign forces in the government’s first acknowledgement it posses the weapons.
Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi made the remark in a news conference on Syrian state TV, according to the Associated Press, acknowledging publicly what has already beenlargely known about the existence of Syria’s weapons of mass destruction. Makdissi emphasized that the weapons would not be used against Syrians as opposition forces continue to gain on Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime.
The AP reported that the Syrian government tried to walk back the statement afterward, sending journalists an amended statement adding the phrase “if any” to return to the past position of neither confirming nor denying the existence of biological or chemical weapons.
The Pentagon Monday warned Syria against using the weapons, a message DOD spokesman George Little said the Assad regime has received “through other channels.”
“They should not think one iota about using chemical weapons,” Little told reporters Monday. “We just want to make it known we would strongly object, to put it mildly, to any thinking that would generate a motivation on the part of the Syrian regime to employ these weapons.”
The Syrian government’s control of its chemical and biological weapons stockpile has become a growing concern for the U.S. government. Defense hawks in Congress have warned that the Obama administration needs to step up its involvement in the conflict to ensure the weapons don’t wind up in the wrong hands.
“The longer this lasts,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said on CNN last week, “the more likelihood that these chemical weapons stockpiles that Bashar Assad has get in the wrong hands, or maybe even used.”
Israel, which shares a border with Syria, is also concerned about what happens to Syria’s chemical weapons, which Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu called his “principle concern” in a “Fox News Sunday” interview.
“We hope we don't have to, and we didn't necessarily consider seizing those weapons. There are other possibilities,” Netanyahu said. “But I think this is a real problem… something will have to act, to stop if the need arises.”