Chemical weapons are 'red line', Obama warns Assad
US PRESIDENT Barack Obama last night raised the prospect of intervention in Syria.
He said that while he hasn't ordered military engagement in Syria "at this point", any discovery of chemicals or biological weapons being moved or used may shift the US position.
"A red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilised," Mr Obama told reporters yesterday in a news conference at the White House. "That would change my calculus."
Mr Obama said the US has "put together a range of contingency plans" for how to deal with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime, and made clear to regional players that there would be "enormous consequences" for any discovery involving Syria's arsenal of chemical weapons.
He said while the US had urged Assad to step down, "at this point the likelihood of a soft landing seems pretty distant."
Meanwhile, the new UN envoy on the Syrian crisis angered both sides of the conflict on his first day in the job yesterday, amid a bitter war of words over the future of international peace efforts.
Lakhbar Brahimi, a 78-year-old Arab diplomat, was pilloried by Damascus for suggesting Syria was in a civil war, and condemned by the opposition for backtracking on his predecessor's belief that Mr Assad must leave office to stop the bloodshed.
In an uncertain performance that dismayed supporters of the veteran Algerian foreign minister, who has been a troubleshooter in Lebanon and Iraq, Mr Brahimi said he would take no decision on the fate of the regime until he had met with leading figures at the UN and with Syria.
A Syrian foreign ministry statement criticised Mr Brahimi, after saying the conflict had reached civil war. "There are a lot of people who say that we must avoid civil war in Syria; me, I believe that we are already there for some time now," Mr Brahimi said. "What's necessary is to stop the civil war and that is not going to be easy."
Syrian officials retorted that promoting talk of civil war amounted to joining the "conspiracy" against it.
"To speak of civil war in Syria contradicts reality and is found only in the head of conspirators," a spokesman for the government said.
Mr Brahimi also incurred the wrath of the opposition Syrian National Council after he refused to endorse remarks by Kofi Annan, the previous envoy, that Mr Assad must quit.
"I am a mediator and a mediator has to speak to anybody and everybody without influence or interest," he said. "Then I'll make up my mind about what to say and what to do."
In an illustration of the pressures facing any envoy, Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, attacked countries providing assistance to the opposition for undermining the role of the UN.
"Syria's situation is important and causing worry not only because of the bloodshed but also because the outcome of this drama will impact the way conflicts will be resolved; either following the UN Charter, or democracy by bombs, will win," he said. (© Daily Telegraph, London)