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U.S. Has Growing Concerns About Syria's Chemical Weapon Stockpile

The United States is increasingly concerned that Syria's stockpile of chemical weapons might be used by the regime of Bashar Assad or that it could fall in the hands of terrorists, as the country's civil war continues.

NPR's Tom Bowman tells our Newscast unit that Syria has one of the largest stockpiles of deadly nerve agents in the Middle East. Tom filed this report:

"Syria has dozens of chemical weapons sites spread around the country, and the latest intelligence shows there is activity at these sites, officials said, but not necessarily movement of the weapons.

"The White House issued a statement saying that any use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime would cross a red line that could prompt military action. For its part the Assad regime has said it would not use chemical weapons against its own people.

"In September, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the Syrians had moved some of their chemical weapons to better secure them."

Reuters reports that during a press briefing, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the new concerns are prompting the White House to prepare contingency plans.

Earlier today, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton warned Syria that using chemical weapons was a "red line."

"I am not going to telegraph in any specifics what we would do in the event of credible evidence that the Assad regime has resorted to using chemical weapons against their own people. But suffice it to say we are certainly planning to take action if that eventuality were to occur," Clinton said, according to The New York Times.

The Times adds:

"There have been signs in recent days of heightened activity at some of Syria's chemical weapons sites, according to American and Israeli officials familiar with intelligence reports. Mrs. Clinton did not confirm the intelligence reports or say what sort of activity was occurring. ...

"Mrs. Clinton, who made her comments after meeting with Karel Schwarzenberg, the foreign minister of the Czech Republic, indicated that the two sides had discussed the situation in Syria, including the potential chemical weapons threat.

"Mr. Schwarzenberg described the situation in Syria as 'rather chaotic' and 'highly dangerous.' He said that Czech troops who specialize in the detection of chemical weapons and decontamination were in Jordan training with forces there."

After the reports surfaced, Syria's foreign ministry said it would not use chemical weapons against its people.

"Syria has stressed repeatedly that it will not use these types of weapons, if they were available, under any circumstances against its people," the foreign ministry said, according to Reuters.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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