WASHINGTON (AP) - President Barack Obama said Monday the U.S. would reconsider its opposition to military involvement in the Syrian civil war if President Bashar Assad's beleaguered regime deploys or uses chemical or biological weapons. He called such action a "red line" for the United States.
Obama said the use of such weapons of mass destruction would considerably widen a conflict that has already dragged on for a year-and-a-half and killed some 20,000 people, according to activists. Syria possesses extensive chemical and biological weapons stockpiles and has threatened to use them if the country comes under foreign attack.
"That's an issue that doesn't just concern Syria. It concerns our close allies in the region, including Israel. It concerns us," Obama said, also acknowledging the possibility that militant groups might acquire some of those weapons. "We cannot have a situation where chemical or biological weapons are falling into the hands of the wrong people."
The president noted that he hasn't ordered any armed U.S. intervention yet, but said: "We have communicated in no uncertain terms with every player in the region, that that's a red line for us, and that 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."
The remarks outlined for the first time the point at which the administration could feel forced to intervene militarily in Syria's increasingly messy war, even if Obama stopped short of saying WMD use would necessarily prompt an American military response.