(WASHINGTON) — President Obama warned Syria on Monday that the U.S. would consider military action if President Bashar al-Assad’s government either moves or uses its arsenal of chemical or biological weapons against his opposition.
The administration has previously shied away from suggesting any direct intervention in the 18-month-long conflict that has left an estimated 21,000 people dead and threatens to spread to the rest of the Middle East.
However, the prospect of Syria’s stockpile of chemical and biological weapons falling into terrorists hands prompted Obama to issue his most forceful comments yet about the situation.
During a White House press briefing, the president said, “We have put together a range of contingency plans. We have communicated in no uncertain terms with every player in the region that that’s a red line for us.”
As of now, al-Assad said he would only use these unconventional weapons that include mustard gas, sarin nerve agent and cyanide against invading armies.
The administration has been pressed by certain war hawks on Capitol Hill, particularly Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, to offer more direct assistance to rebels battling al-Assad’s forces in what has become a do-or-die war for control of Syria.
Establishing a no-fly zone over Syria is more problematic than it was in Libya because al-Assad’s air defense is more powerful, with about 20 times more surface-to-air missiles that could shoot down enemy aircraft.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Holly Yan, Chuck Johnston and David Williams, CNN
Michael Pearson, Faith Karimi and Ian Lee, CNN