x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Nato warned of Syria's chemical weapons threat

The US secretary of state, John Kerry, has urged Nato to prepare for the possible use of chemical weapons by Syria and called for alliance members to boost their assistance to the Syrian opposition.

BRUSSELS // The US secretary of state, John Kerry, yesterday urged Nato to prepare for the possible use of chemical weapons by Syria and called for alliance members to boost their assistance to the Syrian opposition.

Attending his first meeting of the alliance's governing body, the North Atlantic Council, as the US's top diplomat, Mr Kerry said contingency plans were needed to guard against the threat of a chemical-weapons strike.

Nato ally Turkey borders Syria and would be most at risk from such an attack. Nato has already deployed Patriot missile batteries in Turkey.

"Planning regarding Syria, such as what [Nato] has already done, is an appropriate undertaking for the alliance," Mr Kerry told Nato foreign ministers.

"We should also carefully and collectively consider how Nato is prepared to respond to protect its members from a Syrian threat, including any potential chemical weapons threat."

Nato's secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, noted that "the situation in Syria has dramatically deteriorated" and "continues to pose a threat to regional stability".

He said the alliance was "extremely concerned about the use of ballistic missiles in Syria and the possible use of chemical weapons". But he also noted that Nato has not yet been asked to intervene.

"There is no call for Nato to play a role, but if these challenges remain unaddressed they could directly affect our own security," he said.

Rasmussen said Nato's commitment to Turkey was "rock solid" and that the alliance had "plans in place to ensure the effective defence and protection of Turkey."

Despite the deterioration in the situation in Syria, Nato officials say there is virtually no chance the alliance will intervene in thecivil war.

Mr Kerry said his administration was "looking at every option that could possibly end the violence and usher in a political transition" and that plans were needed now to ensure that there was no power vacuum when that took place.

On Sunday in Turkey, Mr Kerry announced that the US would double its non-lethal assistance to the Syrian opposition, possibly including defensive military supplies for the first time.

The US is not giving the rebels arms and ammunition but is not opposed to others doing so as long as the recipients are fully vetted and the supplies are channelled through the military council.