US: Syria moving its chemical weapons

Officials in Washington are privately warning that President Bashar al-Assad's regime has begun to remove parts of its stockpile of chemical weapons, including mustard gas and cyanide, from long-time storage facilities and move them around the country.

Were the largest chemical arsenal in the Arab world to come into play in the conflict, the international efforts to help resolve it would be seriously complicated. Yet the US would hesitate before raising it as a reason to intervene because of its history of errors in assessing the presence of weapons of mass destruction in foreign and unfriendly lands.

Intelligence officials in the US, Israel and elsewhere are not clear whether Damascus would move the materials, which also include the nerve agent sarin, to safeguard them or in preparation potentially to deploy them against its enemies.

For its part the regime has denied that its chemical stockpile is on the move, which was reported first by The Wall Street Journal. "This is absolutely ridiculous and untrue," said Syria's foreign ministry spokesman, Jihad Makdissi. "If the US is so well-informed, why can't they help Kofi Annan in stopping the flow of illegal weapons to Syria in order to end the violence and move towards the political solution?"

The Obama administration issued a warning to Damascus. "We have repeatedly made it clear that the Syrian government has a responsibility to safeguard its stockpiles of chemical weapons, and that the international community will hold accountable any Syrian officials who fail to meet that obligation," a spokesman for the State Department said.

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