Russia hits back at Obama’s warning on Syrian WMDs
Foreign minister Lavrov warns US against military intervention after Obama’s ‘red line’ comments
RUSSIA has hit back at President Obama’s warning that the use of chemical or biological weapons in Syria would provoke “enormous consequences”, Reuters reports. Speaking at a meeting with a top Chinese diplomat, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov warned that the cooperation of both countries was conditional upon the US adhering “strictly to the norms of international law, and not to allow their violation”.
Obama, speaking at a White House press conference on Monday, warned Bashar al-Assad’s regime that the US sees clear “red lines” in a conflict which has seen an estimated 19,000 deaths - and any deployment of chemical weapons would “change my calculus” regarding US military intervention.
As Syria’s conflict stretches into its eighteenth bloody month, Russia and China remain deeply wary of international intervention, vetoing three UN Security Council resolutions and strongly opposing military action. Their intransigence reflects concern that intervention would lead to regime change, an outcome that neither country desired when it begrudgingly supported last year’s UN-sanctioned mission to Libya.
Speaking shortly after Obama made his comments, Lavrov emphasised that Russia’s position represented “the only correct path in today’s conditions”.
Although speculation over Syria’s chemical arsenal dates back to 2007, the Assad regime acknowledged its existence only last month when it threatened to meet any foreign intervention with its deployment. According to Michael Eisenstadt, director of the military and security studies programme at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, this is no idle threat. The Syrian regime “probably has the largest and most advanced chemical warfare programme in the Arab world”.
The New York Times suggests Obama’s comments may have been aimed as much at Israel as at Syria. In recent weeks, Israeli officials have voiced growing concern at the possibility that Syrian chemical weapons could be unleashed on their territory. “By hinting that the United States might participate in locating and neutralising the weapons, Mr. Obama was clearly trying to forestall the possibility of an Israeli move into Syria — and the reaction it might provoke,” says the Times.
The high-level recriminations have provoked anger amongst Syrians who see Obama’s comments as yet another example of the Syrian conflict being reduced to diplomatic power-play.
Whoever the US president’s “red line” remark was intended for, it has drawn criticism from the exiled dissident Ammar Abdulhamid. Writing on his blog, he condemned Obama’s “coldly articulated red line regarding the use of chemical weapons".
Abdulhamid expressed fears that the intervention from Obama would have the unintended consequence of giving Assad the green light to continue “frenzied killing sprees”, reassuring the regime that the international community will only intervene if it suspects the usage of chemical weapons. ·