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OBAMA IN KEY TALKS

US forces ready for Syria military options

Kuala Lumpur, August 25, 2013

The Pentagon is prepared to carry out military options on Syria should President Barack Obama order them, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said even as Obama and his top advisers hashed out options.
 
Obama spoke with British Prime Minister David Cameron, a top US ally, and agreed that chemical weapon use by Syrian President Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces would merit a "serious response," a spokesperson for the prime minister said in a statement.
 
Syrian opposition accounts that between 500 and well over 1,000 civilians were killed this week by gas in munitions fired by pro-government forces, and video footage of victims' bodies, have stoked demands abroad for a robust, US-led response after 2 1/2 years of international inaction on Syria's conflict.
 
Hagel echoed White House statements cautioning that America was still gathering the facts about the Syrian government's alleged use of poison gas against civilians.
 
But he noted that the US military, which is repositioning its naval forces in the Mediterranean to give Obama the option for an armed strike, was ready to act if asked.
 
"President Obama has asked the Defense Department to prepare options for all contingencies. We have done that and we are prepared to exercise whatever option - if he decides to employ one of those options," Hagel told reporters at a news conference in Kuala Lumpur.
 
Syria sought to avert blame by saying its soldiers had found chemical weapons in rebel tunnels. US Secretary of State John Kerry called his Syrian counterpart on Thursday to chide the government for not allowing UN inspectors access to the site.
 
Obama has been reluctant to intervene in Syria's civil war, but reports of the killings near Damascus have put pressure on the White House to make good on the president's comment a year ago that chemical weapons would be a "red line" for the United States.
 
Obama spoke to Cameron after the White House meeting. A spokesperson for the British prime minister said the two men noted increasing signs of Syrian government culpability.
 
"They are both gravely concerned by the attack that took place in Damascus on Wednesday and the increasing signs that this was a significant chemical weapons attack carried out by the Syrian regime against its own people," the spokesperson said.
 
Cameron also spoke to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Harper spoke to French President François Hollande.
 
American and European security sources have said US and allied intelligence agencies made a preliminary assessment that chemical weapons were used by Syrian forces in the attack. The United Nations has requested access to the site.
 
Hagel, whose week-long trip to Asia is being overshadowed by Syria tensions, participated remotely in a meeting on Saturday that Obama held with his top military and national security advisers to hash out options on Syria.
 
Asked whether, after that meeting, he was personally convinced chemical weapons had been used in Syria, Hagel said: "We, along with our allies, are continuing to assess the intelligence, and the specifics of that intelligence, on the use chemical weapons."
 
"I wouldn't go any further than that until we have more intelligence, based on facts," he said.
 
Obama has been reluctant to intervene in Syria's civil war, but reports of the killings near Damascus have put pressure on the White House to make good on the president's comment a year ago that chemical weapons would be a "red line" for the United States.
 
Hagel did not enter into detail about what options the US was weighing, but noted that any scenario carried risks. He noted on his flight to Malaysia that if Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces intentionally used chemical weapons, "there may be another attack coming".
 
"There are risks and consequences for any option that would be used -- or not used. For action or inaction," Hagel said on Sunday.
 
"All of those assessments are being made. They will be driven by the facts, what our intelligence assessment produces, law, legal issues, international support." - Reuters



Tags: US | Syria | gas | military |

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