Former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton is warning that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad could decide to use chemical weapons if he fails to get immunity from prosecution for war crimes against his own people.
In an interview Tuesday night with Fox News' Greta Van Susteren, Bolton described a deteriorating situation for Assad that he likened to former Libyan President Moammar Gadhafi, who did everything possible to remain in power until he was killed by rebels.
"We're in a different environment now, unfortunately," Bolton said. "And what it means is — as in the case of Gadhafi — they might as well go down with their boots on, because if the choice is dying fighting for themselves or be convicted by the international criminal court, every incentive is to stay in power."
Bolton said even if Assad tried to cut a deal for immunity, he would have little guarantee that it would be upheld by the international community once he gave up and left Syria.
"Frequently dictators cut deals with the opposition against prosecution," Bolton noted. "[Salvador] Allende did it in Chile, and they prosecuted him anyway.
"So I think that's the sort of the thing that leads Assad and the broader Alawite [ruling sect] to think it's better to fight to the bitter end," he added. "It's in those circumstances that the use of chemical weapons, unfortunately, is a realistic option."
Bolton made the comments a day after President Barack Obama and the Russian government warned Assad against using chemical weapons, as rebels groups fighting to overthrow his regime solidified their hold on key areas of the country and forced the Syrian army to retreat to city strongholds.
The joint U.S.-Russian threat was in response to intelligence reports that Assad might be on the verge of deploying his chemical arsenal. At the same time, NATO officials in Brussels also announced plans to deploy Patriot surface-to-air missiles in Turkey to defend against any possible cross-border incursion from Syria.
With the Assad regime seemingly on its "last legs," Bolton said, "When you put all that together it's a very dangerous mix."
Bolton acknowledged that Assad has had "remarkable staying power," given the more than two years that his regime has been under siege from opposition forces.
But he said: "It does look this time like his situation is deteriorating rapidly, which, again, is consistent with the idea he would get ready to use chemical weapons, or at least he would try to move them into areas clearly controlled by the Alawites, where he might try an enclave defense as a last stand."
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