White House concerned that Assad will use chemical weapons in Syria

The Obama administration on Tuesday said it was concerned that Syrian President Bashar Assad would use his nation's stockpiles of chemical weapons to put down the 17-month uprising against his government.

“What we have seen is inhumane brutality from the Assad regime, and that is something that has aroused the concern — against his own people I should say – and that has certainly aroused concern not just by the president and U.S. officials, but by the leaders of countries all over the globe, including a number of countries in the region,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters on Air Force One, according to a transcript from CQ. 

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“What I can tell you is — this is something that the State Department has also expressed publicly – is that there are certain responsibilities that go along with the handling and storage and security of those chemical weapons. And we believe that the individuals who are responsible for living up to those challenges should do so and will be held accountable for doing so.”

On Monday, Syria's ambassador to Iraq told the BBC that Assad can be expected to use chemical weapons against his opponents and may already have deployed them. Nawaf Fares, a tribal leader and former governor whose father ran Syria's department of defense for more than 30 years, defected last week.

"I am convinced that if Bashar al-Assad's regime is further cornered by the people, he would use such weapons,” Fares said, adding that Assad is ready to "eradicate the entire Syrian people" to stay in power.

The reports that Assad is moving chemical weapons has reinforced Senate hawks' calls for a more forceful U.S. intervention. In a joint statement on Friday, Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said such a move would “threaten our vital national security interests.”

“If accurate, this would mean that the Assad regime cannot be trusted to exercise responsible stewardship over its weapons of mass destruction, and that allowing them to remain in Assad's hands presents a clear threat, not only to civilians in Syria but to international peace and security,” they said. 

“If that is the case, the Administration should convene an urgent session of the UN Security Council to consider a Chapter 7 resolution demanding that Assad relinquish his weapons of mass destruction to responsible international control — and authorizing the use of all necessary means to enforce this demand. If Russia and China stand in the way, the United States must rally our friends and allies to act.”

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