Barack Obama says Syria chemical weapon use would change US 'calculus' over intervention

President insists chemical attacks are still a 'red line'

President Barack Obama has insisted that use of chemical weapons by Syria's Bashar al-Assad would change his "calculus" over launching military action in the country, but said too little is known about alleged sarin attacks to justify it now.

He had previously said that chemical attacks were a "red line" with "enormous consequences."

Syria's civil war, now in its third year, is thought to have killed more than 70,000 and displaced more than one million. It is fought between forces loyal to President Assad and rebels, mostly from the disparate Free Syrian Army.

The conflict has spilled periodically across the ceasefire line and Syria's borders with Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey, threatening to engulf the region.

And on Friday the government had to deny using chemical weapons, as a video surfaced of a man showing symptoms of being affected by the nerve agent sarin. It denounced as “lies” Western claims that sarin was detected in soil samples sent from the front line.

US lawmakers from both parties have expressed concern that inaction could embolden Assad and perhaps other countries including North Korea and Iran.

And government officials said on Thursday that the Syrian government probably had used chemical weapons twice in March, an assessment which followed similar conclusions from Britain, France, Israel and Qatar — key allies eager for a more aggressive response to Syrian conflict.

Obama, in his first comments about the new intelligence disclosure, said yesterday: "For the Syrian government to utilize chemical weapons on its people crosses a line that will change my calculus and how the United States approaches these issues."

"I've meant what I said."

Some lawmakers voiced concern that if Obama doesn't make good on his promise to respond aggressively if it's shown that Assad used chemical weapons, his inaction could send a damaging message to the world.

"There's no question that when the United States takes a position that this crosses a line that our failure to respond has implications," said David Cicilline, a Democratic member of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee. "So that if we, in fact, determine that chemical weapons were used, I think the expectation is that we and the coalition and others take some action."

White House officials insisted Obama's caution was not an indication that the line was shifting. Officials said firm evidence of a chemical weapons attack would trigger a U.S. response — unspecified — and would not be contingent on the size and scope of the use.

Obama met at the White House with Jordan's King Abdullah II, whose country is suffering amid an influx of refugees spilling over its border with Syria. The president promised to vigorously pursue more information about chemical weapons attacks, including exactly who might be responsible and how they might have been carried out.

But the president set no deadline for answers.

"The president wants the facts," spokesman Jay Carney said. "And I'm not going to set a timeline because the facts need to be what drives this investigation, not a deadline."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
i100 In this video, the late actor Leonard Nimoy explains how he decided to use the gesture for his character
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
News
Down-to-earth: Winstone isn't one for considering his 'legacy'
people
News
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sauce Recruitment: Retail Planning Manager - Home Entertainment UK

salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - London - up to £40,000

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Creative Front-End Developer - Claph...

Recruitment Genius: Product Quality Assurance Technologist - Hardline & Electric

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The role in this successful eco...

Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000 QA Tes...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower