President Barack Obama and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry have made no visible efforts to punish Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, two months after the UN confirmed his continued chemical weapons use.
“We have been very clear to the Assad regime … that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized,” Obama told reporters in August 2012. A year later, definitive reports confirmed widespread chemical weapons use by the Assad regime against civilians, including sarin gas.
Despite pressure from his own advisors, the international community, NATO, and U.S. allies, Obama demurred on his “red line.” Obama instead opted for a Russian-brokered deal with the Assad regime, in which Assad would give up his chemical weapons arsenal. “I’m very proud of this moment,” Obama told Jeffery Goldberg of The Atlantic.
Obama elaborated, “I believe ultimately it was the right decision to make.” The U.S. did not include chlorine gas in the list of weapons to be turned over, which Assad has used with impunity against civilian populations as recently as Thursday.
An Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons report in late August 2016 found evidence to “indicate potentially undeclared chemical weapons-related activities.”
Even White House spokesman Ned Price acknowledged after the report, “It is now impossible to deny that the Syrian regime has repeatedly used industrial chlorine as a weapon against its own people.”
UN Security Council officials indicated to Foreign Policy that the U.S. is committed to sanctioning the Assad regime economically, but is trying to get Russia to agree to allow chemical weapons inspectors into Syria. Russian agreement will be exceedingly to secure, as they deny chemical weapons use even happened. “The proof is not there for any punitive action to be taken” Russia’s UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin told reporters.
“It is crucial to hold those who use or intend to use chemicals as weapons accountable for their acts, as it is fundamental to deter all those who continue to believe that there is something to be gained in the use of toxic chemicals as weapons,” a UN report detailing Assad’s chemical weapons use closed.
Former U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford, himself an architect of the 2013 chemical weapons deal, told Foreign Policy in August, “The administration has worked itself into a position that’s just untenable. They look foolish.”
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