By Barbara Starr
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned on Monday the United States was prepared to act if Syria used chemical arms as new concerns surfaced about those weapons, although Syria said it had no intention of using them on its own people.
Speaking after meetings in Prague, Clinton reiterated that such a move by the regime of Syria's Bashar al-Assad would cross a red line previously drawn by President Barack Obama.
"I'm 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," Clinton told reporters.
"There is no doubt that there is a line between even the horrors that they have already inflicted on the Syrian people and moving to what would be an internationally condemned step of utilizing their chemical weapons."
Clinton met with the Czech foreign minister and discussed the concerns, she said after the meeting. Clinton said the Czech Republic has extensive expertise with chemical and biological weapons.
"They have already been consulting about what can be and should be done, both at this time and post the inevitable fall of the Assad regime," Clinton said.
U.S. intelligence is concerned about the Syrian government's intent regarding its vast chemical weapons stockpiles after what one senior U.S. official described as "worrying signs" of activity in "the last few days."
"There are concerns the regime may be considering use of chemical weapons" the official told CNN on Sunday.
But the official stressed that the Obama administration has not come to a final conclusion about Syria's intent.
"This isn't just about movement, but about potential intent to make certain chemical weapons ready for use."
The official admitted it is not entirely clear to the United States what the Syrian government is up to, or if this latest development was ordered specifically by the Assad regime.
The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information discussed, declined to specify the exact intelligence that the United States has gathered in the past few days.
The New York Times first reported the concern on Sunday.
Syrian State TV cited a Foreign Ministry official on Monday as saying the country would never use chemical weapons on its own people.
Syria is known to store its chemical stockpile, in many instances, separately from the artillery shells, rockets or missiles that would deliver those chemical weapons in an attack.
As rebel fighters continue to make some gains, capturing military assets and territory, U.S. and Middle Eastern intelligence services have been watching for some months for any signs the Syrians would be loading up those weapons with chemical agents.
In recent months, the Obama administration has acknowledged at least two instances of Syrian chemical weapons stockpiles being moved but has said it believes those were efforts to put the material in more secure locations as fighting increased.
"We don't know if there is actual intent," the U.S. official said about the latest observed activities. "This is worrisome. This is a step beyond moving them around."