Amid unconfirmed allegations of a chemical weapons attack in Syria, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., is demanding a plan to secure chemical weapon sites in the country - even if it means sending in U.S. troops, according to Foreign Policy
Graham expressed grave concerns about the prospect of "chemical weapons in Syria falling in the hands of extremists," and said in an interview with Foreign Policy today "Americans need to lead on this issue."
"We need to come up with a plan to secure these weapons sites, either in conjunction with our partners [or] if nothing else by ourselves," Graham said. Asked about sending in U.S. troops toward that goal, he said, "absolutely."
"Absolutely, you've got to get on the ground. There is no substitute for securing these weapons," he said. "I don't care what it takes. We need partners in the region. But I'm here to say, if the choice is to send in troops to secure the weapons sites versus allowing chemical weapons to get in the hands of some of the most violent people in the world, I vote to cut this off before it becomes a problem."
The Syrian government today accused rebels of firing a chemical weapon in the north of the country, killing at least 25 people in the Aleppo province. But rebels denied the report, instead accusing regime forces of firing a chemical weapon on a long-range missile. Neither of those allegations have been verified.
According to the White House, it so far has produced "no evidence" to support the charge that rebel forces had used chemical weapons.
"We are evaluating the charges that are being made and the allegations, consulting closely with our partners in the region and in the international community. But we have no evidence to substantiate that charge, that the opposition has used chemical weapons," White House spokesman Jay Carney said today.
Even so, Carney called the possibility of chemical attacks a "serious concern," and said that while the administration is not currently "supplying lethal assistance to the opposition... we are of course, as you would expect, constantly evaluating and assessing our various assistance programs."
"We have been very clear about our concern that as the Assad regime is increasingly beleaguered and finds its escalation of violence through conventional means inadequate, including the barbaric use of Scud missiles against population centers, that it will consider the use of chemical weapons against the Syrian people. This is a serious concern," he said.
He declined, however, to "speculate about what consequences would take place if it were to be found that the regime had used chemical weapons."
"I am not going to discuss intelligence, but it is important that as fighting in Syria intensifies and the regime becomes more desperate, that the United States and the international community make absolutely clear to Assad that the use of chemical weapons would be totally unacceptable," Carney said. "The president was clear when he said that if Assad and those under his command make the mistake of using chemical weapons or fail to meet their obligations to secure them, then there will be consequences and they will be held accountable."
In a joint statement with Graham this afternoon, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said he was "extremely disturbed" by the reports of potential chemical weapon use in Syria, and urged Mr. Obama to "take immediate action to impose the consequences he has promised" if it turns out such attacks took place.
"If today's reports are substantiated, the President's red line has been crossed, and we would urge him to take immediate action to impose the consequences he has promised," McCain and Graham said in the statement. "That should include the provision of arms to vetted Syrian opposition groups, targeted strikes against Assad's aircraft and SCUD missile batteries on the ground, and the establishment of safe zones inside Syria to protect civilians and opposition groups."
A spokesman for McCain did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether or not McCain, like Graham, would support sending U.S. troops into Syria.