The best way to ensure Syria doesn’t use chemical weapons against rebels is not military action, but offering Syria’s president a way out of the country – and persuading him to take it – a former NATO supreme commander says.
Retired U.S. Army Gen. Wesley Clark told "CNN Newsroom" on Thursday that concerned nations could attack Syrian military targets, but such a move wouldn’t immediately halt every chemical weapons threat.
"You could take out the airfields if (the weapons) are uploaded … but nothing is going to be 100% effective," Clark said. "The most effective preventive weapon is to use this as greater leverage against the Russians and Chinese to cut all support for Bashar Assad, get him out of the country, get him into some kind of asylum situation somewhere, and sort this out."
Clark’s comments come amid reports that the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad may be preparing to use chemical weapons.
A number of key international players, including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, were meeting Thursday in Ireland to discuss the situation. Clinton is holding talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, among others.
U.S. President Barack Obama said Monday that use of chemical weapons by Syria would be unacceptable.
NBC reported Wednesday night that Syria is loading chemical weapons into bombs. CNN has not confirmed the NBC report.
Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad said Thursday that "Syria would never use chemical weapons, even if it had them, against its own people." He made the remark to Hezbollah's Al-Manar TV.
Russia has blocked action against al-Assad at the United Nations, but diplomats say Moscow, which has insisted there should be no "regime change" in Syria, now increasingly doubts that al-Assad can survive in power.
Syria's government has been fighting rebels for more than a year, and Syria’s armed forces appear to be weakening. Russia has blamed the lack of a political solution on the Syrian opposition, saying it has been radicalized, includes members of al Qaeda, and refuses to engage in any negotiations until Assad steps down.
The United States also has expressed concerns about an increasing radicalization of some Syrian rebel groups. But the stronger the radical groups become, the more the United States worries that the fighting - not political efforts to find a solution - will decide the outcome in Syria. As a result, Washington has been pushing the opposition to unite.
“Even when it’s sorted out, we have to be concerned about the chemical weapons, because we don’t want them to fall into the hands of terrorists, and there are terrorist groups that have gone in there and associated with the (rebels),” Clark said.