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Obama skeptical of Assad claim on chemical weapons

Published: Wednesday, March 20, 2013 3:30 p.m. CDT

(Continued from Page 1)

JERUSALEM (AP) — President Barack Obama said Wednesday that the United States is investigating whether chemical weapons have been deployed in Syria, but he's "deeply skeptical" of claims by Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime that rebel forces were behind such an attack.

Both the Assad regime and Syrian rebels have accused each other of using chemical weapons in an attack on Tuesday that the government says killed 31 and wounded more than 100. But Obama suggested it's more likely that if the weapons were used, the Syrian government was behind the attack.

"We know the Syrian government has the capacity to carry out chemical weapon attacks," Obama said. "We know that there are those are in the Syrian government who have expressed a willingness to use chemical weapons if necessary to protect themselves. I am deeply skeptical of any claim that in fact it was the opposition that used chemical weapons. Everybody who knows the facts of the chemical weapons stockpiles inside of Syria as well as the Syrian government capabilities, I think, would question those claims."

"Once we establish the facts, I have made clear that the use of chemical weapons is a game changer," Obama said in a news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Obama said he wouldn't announce what the next steps would be while the investigation is unfolding. But he echoed up his statement over the summer that the use of chemical weapons in Syria would be a "red line" for the United States.

"When you start seeing weapons that can cause potential devastation and mass casualties and you let that genie out of the bottle, then you are looking potentially at even more horrific scenes than we've already seen in Syria. And the international community has to act on that additional information," Obama said.

"We have been clear that the use of chemical weapons against the Syrian people would be a serious and tragic mistake," Obama said.

Obama said the U.S. policy not to intervene militarily thus far is based on his desire to solve the problem as a global community. "It's a world problem ... when tens of thousands of people are being slaughtered, including innocent women and children," Obama said.

Netanyahu said the two leaders discussed Syria during their private meeting earlier. He said the two countries share a goal of preventing Syria's weapons arsenal from falling into the hands of terrorists.

Obama said the United States shares the concern that the weapons could be transferred to a group like Hezbollah and used against Israel. "The Assad regime must understand that they will be held accountable for the use of chemical weapons or their transfer to terrorists," Obama said.

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