US President Barack Obama. (Photo credit JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
David Jackson, USA TODAY
President Obama warned Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad on Monday that the use of chemical weapons is "totally unacceptable," and he will be punished if they are deployed against rebel forces.
"The whole world is watching," Obama said of Assad during a Washington symposium on nuclear non-proliferation. "If you make the tragic mistake of using these weapons, there will be consequences, and you will be held accountable."
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has issued a similar warning to Assad's government.
The warnings come as U.S. officials report that intelligence agencies have detected a movement of chemical weapon components in Syria in recent days.
Obama made the comments during remarks at the annual Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) symposium at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C.
It is the 20th anniversary of the program designed to track down nuclear weapons and nuclear materials that were unsecured at the end of the Cold War. Obama paid particular tribute to the two leaders who developed the program: Outgoing Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., and retired Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga., calling them the very definition of visionaries.
"They look at the world and see what's missing," Obama said. "So they set out to fill the gap."