President Barack Obama warned Syria's Bashar Assad on Monday that he will be held accountable if he makes the "tragic mistake" of using chemical weapons on his own people.
His blunt warning came shortly after Syria—gripped by deadly violence since an uprising against Assad that began early last year—threatened to use chemical and biological weapons if attacked from the outside. It was the first formal admission from Damascus that the regime, long a close partner of Iran, has weapons of mass destruction.
"Given the regime's stockpiles of chemical weapons, we will continue to make it clear to Assad and those around him that the world is watching and that they will be held accountable by the international community, and the United States, should they make the tragic mistake of using those weapons," the president said in a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) at their annual convention in Reno, Nev.
Obama said he was "working for a transition so the Syrian people can have a better future, free of the Assad regime."
"We will continue to work with our friends and our allies—and the Syrian opposition—on behalf of the day when the Syrian people have a government that respects their basic rights to live in peace and freedom and dignity," he said.
The Obama administration has forcefully denied giving arms to Syria's rebels, but has admitted to providing nonlethal help and working to smooth the path to what could be a difficult political transition if Assad tumbles from power.