By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 3, 2012 – President Barack Obama warned Syria’s Bashar Assad regime that the use of chemical and biological weapons would be “unacceptable.”
Speaking at the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Symposium at the National Defense University here, Obama addressed concerns of the use of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons in Syria.
“Today, I want to make it absolutely clear to Assad and those under his command [that] the world is watching,” he said. “The use of chemical weapons is, and would be, totally unacceptable. And if you make the tragic mistake of using these weapons, there where be consequences, and you will be held accountable.”
The president said it has been critical to continue investing in threat reduction programs over the past four years of his administration.
“We simply cannot allow the 21st century to be darkened by the worst weapons of the 20th century,” Obama said. “And even as we make some very tough fiscal choices, we’re going to keep investing in these programs, because our national security depends on it.”
The president noted even after the destruction of thousands of missiles, elimination of bombers and submarines and deactivation of warheads, much work remains to be done.
“There’s still much too much material — nuclear, chemical, biological — being stored without enough protection,” he said. “There are still terrorists and criminal gangs doing everything they can to get their hands on it.”
If these criminals get these weapons, they will use them, potentially killing hundreds of thousands of innocent people and perhaps triggering a global crisis, the president said.
“[This is] why I continue to believe that nuclear terrorism remains one of the greatest threats to global security,” he added. “[And] why working to prevent nuclear terrorism is going to remain one of my top national security priorities as long as I have the privilege of being president of the United States.”
The president emphasized that the United States must sustain efforts across the government to strengthen threat reduction programs such as the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, which he called “one of our most important national security programs.”
“[This is] why we haven’t just sustained programs like Nunn-Lugar over the past four years,” Obama said. “We’ve worked with all of you to strengthen it, expanding it to some 80 nations, far beyond the old Soviet Union – moving ahead with the destruction of chemical weapons – partnering with others, countries from Africa to Asia and global health organizations to prevent the spread of deadly diseases and bioterrorism.”
The work ahead will not be easy, Obama said. “It took decades and extraordinary sums of money to build those arsenals,” he explained. “It’s going to take decades and continued investments to dismantle them.”
Obama also said while this painstaking work rarely makes headlines, it is “absolutely vital to our national security and to our global interests.”
“Missile by missile, warhead by warhead, shell by shell, we’re putting a bygone era behind us,” he said. “Inspired by Sam Nunn and Dick Lugar, we’re moving closer to the future we seek — a future where these weapons never threaten our children again, [and] a future where we know the security and peace of a world without nuclear weapons.”
The president also told the audience that the United States will continue to support the “legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people” by engaging with the opposition and providing them with humanitarian aid and by working for a transition to a Syria that’s free of the Assad regime.