News / Middle East

Obama Warns Syria on Chemical Weapons, Calls for Assad to Step Down

President Barack Obama speaks in the White House briefing room in Washington, Monday, Aug. 20, 2012.President Barack Obama speaks in the White House briefing room in Washington, Monday, Aug. 20, 2012.
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President Barack Obama speaks in the White House briefing room in Washington, Monday, Aug. 20, 2012.
President Barack Obama speaks in the White House briefing room in Washington, Monday, Aug. 20, 2012.
WHITE HOUSE — President Barack Obama on Monday again called for Syria's President Bashar al-Assad to step down, saying that any movement or use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government would change America's stance toward Syria.  

The president's comments came during a surprise appearance in the White House briefing room, prompted in part by complaints by the media that he has avoided holding a regular news conference.

Asked about Syria, Obama said that so far President Assad has not gotten the message that he has lost legitimacy and needs to step down.

"The international community has sent a clear message that rather than drag his country into a civil war, he should move in the direction of a political transition," said President Obama. "But at this point, the likelihood of a soft landing [an easy Assad departure] seems pretty distant."

Obama referred to humanitarian and other assistance the United States and international partners have provided to Syria's opposition, saying this will continue, especially help to refugees fleeing the fighting.  

He said assistance also includes consultations with the opposition about how a political transition might occur, including consideration of principles that should be upheld in respecting minority and human rights in Syria.

Obama said he has not ordered "military engagement" in Syria.  But he said the United States and its allies are watching the situation closely, adding that any use or movement of Syrian government chemical weapons would change his "calculus."

"We have put together a range of contingency plans," said Obama. "We have communicated in no uncertain terms with every player in the region that that is a red line [serious concern] for us and there would be enormous consequences if we start seeing movement on the chemical weapons front or the use of chemical weapons.  That would change my calculations significantly."

Obama said the United States "cannot have a situation where chemical weapons are falling into the hands of the wrong people," adding that Washington has made its point about this red line "very clear" to the Assad government and "other players on the ground."

The president said U.S. allies in the region, including Israel, are also concerned about chemical and biological weapons in Syria.

Obama also commented on the latest killings of U.S. and NATO troops by members of Afghanistan's security forces. So far this year, at least 39 coalition personnel have been killed in such attacks.

Obama said he is "deeply concerned" and that he would be "reaching out" to Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai about the problem.  He said he had also spoken with U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Army General Martin Dempsey, who was in Afghanistan for meetings with NATO and Afghan officials.

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by: Anonymous
August 23, 2012 1:27 PM
What did Putin do in Chechnya? The exact same thing Assad is doing. Same minds.

by: Anonymous
August 23, 2012 1:18 PM
I think Obamas warning is valid, and should be exercised should the Assad dictator lose control of these chemicals or use them.

In the wrong hands these chemicals can pose a security problem worldwide, it needs to be addressed.

Why Russia or China is not concerned about the chemicals in Syria is beyond me. I also don't understand why Russia and China are STILL backing Assad, when meenwhile he is proven to be a war criminal killing innocent people. In the end the minds of Syrian people will win, the Syrians will win in the end. I am sure that the people (civillians) will hate Russia and China for their actions to do nothing while the leader of their own country systematically is killing the public and even labelling civillians as terrorists. Once this war is over and Assad is captured or killed, the Russians will be looking for a new Naval Base elsewhere because the Syrian people won't want them there. As well I am sure future dealings with China will disolve.
Meenwhile people are getting killed there non-stop. The world knows the only way to stop it is to remove Assad at this point.

by: Anonymous
August 21, 2012 7:15 PM
What would ever happen if Israel decided to try and help the FSA by taking out Assad?

by: Anonymous
August 21, 2012 5:57 AM
Nothing is indispensable but a reason

by: A R Sopamena from: Indonesia
August 21, 2012 4:42 AM
Hallo VOA,
The United States and international partners have provided to Syria's opposition, especially help to refugees fleeing the fighting. Please don't wait too long, since the involvement of Russia and China the situation become worth.China in the past has held to the idea that civil opposition of any kind calls for a military-oriented approach. And China owns nuclear submarines that in the past have been spotted off the shoreline in the Middle-East. Please take care of it, you have your power America. We believe from your cool hand you can solved the problem Mr. President.

by: LeRoy Padmore from: Jersey City,NJ
August 20, 2012 11:43 PM
Israel doesn't need America to attack Iran or Syria for her,in as much Ahmadinejah has been running his mouth,He is afraid of Israel.At the beginning When this man came to power he said Israel should be wipe off the map,this is his second term,he still talking all that JAZZ.let him attack Israel and let the world see what will happen to Iran.this is the greatest mistake that he will ever make in his life.cuz Israel will buried Iran.so if Syria is depending on Iran,well she has areally losed.Assad needs to step down,he needs to go,enough is enough.the international community need to step into this situation concerning Syria and Iran.we cannot sit back and allow this to keep going on,Assad is a bad element to his people and to society,the Syrian people need to be free.Free Syria,free Syria

by: Yoshi from: Sapporo
August 20, 2012 10:27 PM
It's a rule that U.S. is scared by illusion that its opposits have dreadful weapons. Why is it so suspicios? If the U.S. wants to free from such illusion, it must be the shortcut that it abandons its own dreadful weapons as fast as possible.

by: riano baggy from: ina
August 20, 2012 10:19 PM
the best way Mr Assad step down for STOP A RIOT because many Syrian's people death in this conflict and Syrian's people can make election for new leader with new govenrment..

by: Anonymous
August 20, 2012 8:32 PM
My god! Once again, It looks that US is planning to attack another country(Syria) just like attacking Vienam, Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. It's known that the strategy that makes excuses to attack other countries was always used by American governments. For example, US complained that their warship was attacked by Vienam fishboats in the Vienam coastal area and started to bomb Vienam. US attacked Iraq by complaining that Iraq was making nuclear and chemical weapons that have been proved that Iraq never did like what US said. In a word, from what Obama is saying, I believe US is planning to make the same excuse(complaining Syria is making and using chemical weapons) to attack Syria. In fact, the country that used chemical weapons (in Vienam) and nuclear weapons(in Japan and Iraq) is US, not other countries.

by: Greg from: San Jose
August 20, 2012 8:29 PM
Can we please stop doing Israel's dirty work? Between the U.S.S. Liberty war crime, constant espionage, and manipulation of our executive, legislative, and judicial branches, banking, media, and education systems, I would be hard-pressed to come up with a less likely "Best Friend". As far as warning Syria over the use of chemical or biological arms, I doubt Syria would use them if they had them. This rhetoric just lays the groundwork for a false flag attack by Israel to lay blame at Syria's feet. Israel is too cowardly to take on Iran by itself, and will use the big dumb meathooked giant again if given the opportunity.

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