Obama defines his Syria red line


President Barack Obama said Monday that his “red line” for direct military intervention in the widening Syria conflict would be the use of chemical or biological weapons.

“The red line for us is if we start seeing a bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized,” Obama, speaking in a surprise appearance at the White House press conference Monday, said. “That would change my calculus.”

Obama said the United States is increasing humanitarian aid to help Syria’s exploding refugee population, as well as political and financial support to the Syrian opposition, in consultation with other countries. But he had not “at this point” ordered U.S. military engagement in the conflict.

“We are monitoring the situation very carefully, and have put together a range of contiengency plans and communicated in no uncertain terms with every player in  the region that is a red line for us,” Obama said.

He spoke as a US delegation is headed to Turkey for consultations on the widening crisis, amid growing US concerns about spill over from the Syrian conflict potentially destabilizing other countries in the region, including Lebanon and Iraq..

As Al Monitor  previously reported, acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs Beth Jones is headed to Turkey this week to confer on Syria.

Jones will be part of an inter-agency team that includes senior officials from the Pentagon and intelligence community who will meet Wednesday with their Turkish counterparts, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told journalists Monday.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, on a trip to Istanbul this month, “committed to …an inter-agency conversation, [the] U.S. and Turkey sitting down together to share operational picture [and …] the effectiveness of what we’re doing now and about what more we can do,” Nuland said. It will be Jones’ second trip to Turkey to confer on the crisis just this month.

The United States has to date provided $82 million in humanitarian assistance for the Syria crisis, and may increase that, Obama said.

“We want to make sure hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing the mayhem [are not] in a terrible situation, or also [that they don’t] destabilize some of Syria’s neighbors,” Obama said.

(Photo: U.S. President Barack Obama is seen on a television monitor as he speaks in the press briefing room at the White House in Washington, August 20, 2012.  REUTERS/Larry Downing.)