WASHINGTON – Following reports of "suspicious activity" at Syria's chemical weapons sites, an American official with knowledge of the situation told Wired magazine that President Bashar Assad's regime has begun combining the two chemical precursors needed to weaponize sarin gas.
"Physically, they’ve gotten to the point where they can load it up on a plane and drop it," the official told the magazine.
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Wired explained that Sarin gas has two main chemical components - isopropanol, popularly known as rubbing alcohol, and methylphosphonyl difluoride. The Assad government has more than 500 metric tons of these precursors, which it ordinarily stores separately, in so-called "binary" form, in order to prevent an accidental release of nerve gas.
Last week, according to the official, that changed as the Syrian military began combining some of the binaries. "They didn’t do it on the whole arsenal, just a modest quantity,” the official was quoted by Wired as saying. "We're not sure what's the intent."
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Monday that any use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime against the opposition "is a red line for the United States.
"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," she said.
Later on Monday, US President Barack Obama warned Syria that the use of chemical weapons would be "totally unacceptable" and that the country's leaders would be held accountable.
Obama said that if Assad made the "tragic mistake" of deploying chemical weapons, there would be consequences. Obama stopped short of detailing those consequences.
Obama's comments came as US officials said intelligence had detected Syrian movement of chemical weapons components in recent days.
The White House said earlier Monday that it was increasingly concerned that the beleaguered regime in Syria might be considering use of chemical weapons against its own people and warned that doing so would "cross a red line."
White House press secretary Jay Carney said US officials were closely monitoring Syria's proliferation of sensitive materials and facilities, as opposition to the Syrian government grows.
Obama spoke later at a gathering on securing nuclear weapons materials.
The Atlantic reported Monday that the Israeli government has twice come to the Jordanian government over the past two months with a plan to destroy many of Syria's chemical weapons sites.
The American magazine quoted Intelligence officials in two countries as saying Israel has been seeking Jordan's "permission" to bomb these sites, but the Jordanians have so far declined to grant such permission.
AP contributed to the report