US, Turkey Plan for Syrian Chemical Warfare

US and Turkish leaders meet in Istanbul to make contingency plans in case Syria decides to use its chemical weapons.

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Chana Ya'ar,

Hillary Clinton, Ahmet Davutoglu in Istanbul
Hillary Clinton, Ahmet Davutoglu in Istanbul

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spent the weekend in talks with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu over the escalating civil war in Syria, and working on the creation of a new working group to deal with the threats of chemical warfare and terrorism emanating from the country.

"We need to get into the real details of such operational planning and it needs to be across both of our governments,” Clinton told reporters in a briefing on Saturday. She added that the U.S. goal was to “hasten the end of the bloodshed” and the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

Both Turkey and America, she said, agree on the need to plan for the possibility that Assad might decide to use the chemical weapons in his arsenal – or that they might be given to, or fall into, the hands of others who would.

"What would that mean in terms of response – humanitarian and medical emergency assistance – and of course, what needs to be done to secure those stocks from ever being used or falling into the wrong hands?” she said.

Clinton and Davutoglu also discussed imposing no-fly zones to halt the Syrian government from attacking its citizens, and the opposition forces, from the air. It is a similar strategy that was used by NATO forces to assist the rebel movement in Libya that ultimately toppled dictator Muammar Qaddafi.

Clinton also met with Turkish President Abdullah Gul, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Syrian opposition groups.  She announced Saturday that the U.S. would provide another $5.5 million in humanitarian aid for Syrian refugees that have crossed the border into Turkey. Thus far, U.S. taxpayers have shelled out $82 million in total financial support for Syrian refugees since the civil war was ignited in March 2011 by last year's “Arab Spring.”

More than 21,000 Syrians have been killed in the conflict, and another 1.5 million have been left homeless or displaced, with no end in sight.