Syria would cross a "red line" if signs pointed to preparations for deployment of such arms, he said.
Updated: August 20, 2012 - 9:40 PM
WASHINGTON - President Obama on warned Monday that any attempt by Syria to move or use its chemical weapons stockpile would cross a "red line" for the administration and change the U.S. "calculus."
Speaking at a news conference at the White House, Obama said he has not authorized military operations against Syria. But he said any effort by Syrian President Bashar Assad to use chemical weapons would have significant consequences.
Asked for an assessment of the situation in Syria, Obama repeated his call for Assad to step down before proceeding to outline his concerns about the possible use of chemical or biological weapons.
"We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus," Obama said. "That would change my equation. ... We're monitoring that situation very carefully. We have put together a range of contingency plans."
His remarks represented his strongest language to date on Syria's chemical weapons. In July, he warned Assad would be "held accountable by the international community" if he made the "tragic mistake" of deploying chemical munitions.
Obama's remarks at the time came in response to comments from Jihad Makdissi, a spokesman for the Syrian Foreign Ministry, which were widely seen as a confirmation of Syria's chemical weapons capability.
Makdissi suggested that the government would deploy chemical munitions only in the case of foreign intervention in the country's mounting civil war.
Syria is believed to have stockpiles of mustard gas, VX and other nerve agents.
Information released by WikiLeaks suggests Syria amassed its chemical capabilities through trades with Iran and by procuring "dual use" precursor chemicals.
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