The secretary of defense said the Pentagon is prepared ‘to fulfill and comply with whatever option’ President Obama chooses to punish Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government for its suspected use of chemical weapons.
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The drumbeats of war grew louder Tuesday as Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned the Syrians that U.S. forces were “ready to go.”
Hagel said the Pentagon is prepared
“to fulfill and comply with whatever option” President Obama chooses to punish the Syrian government for allegedly using nerve gas against rebels.
“I think it's pretty clear that chemical weapons were used against people in Syria," Hagel told the BBC. “I think the intelligence will conclude that it wasn't the rebels who used it, and there will probably be pretty good intelligence to show that the Syria government was responsible. But we'll wait and determine what the facts and the intelligence bear out.”
Meanwhile, British Prime Minister David Cameron announced he is summoning lawmakers back from their summer recess early to deal with the crisis.
Cameron’s “view is that it’s important that when we see a crime of this sort — the use of chemical weapons against a regime’s own people — that there needs to be a response, and that response needs to come from the international community,” spokesman Christian Cubitt said.
The British military is also gearing up for a potential strike against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government, which has been battling rebels determined to oust him for nearly two years.
“There’ll be a clear government motion and vote on U.K. response to chemical weapons” when lawmakers meet, Cameron tweeted.
The Syrians remained defiant Tuesday and vowed a “surprise” if the U.S. and its allies attacked them.
Syria is “hearing the drums of war all around us,” Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem said. “We have the means to defend ourselves, and we will surprise people with them. We must believe in victory.”
Assad denies launching a nerve gas attack on the outskirts of Damascus on Wednesday that rebels say killed more than 1,300. He said it was the opposition that launched the gas attack to spur a Western attack.
But Assad waited five days before allowing United Nations experts access to the site, and during that time, he bombed the Ghouta area to bury evidence, officials said.
Reuters reported Tuesday that the U.S. and diplomats from other Western nations met with Syrian opposition leaders like Ahmad Jarba in Istanbul and told them to prepare for a military strike and peace talks.
“The opposition was told in clear terms that action to deter further use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime could come as early as in the next few days, and that they should still prepare for peace talks at Geneva," one of the Reuters sources said.
Assad continues to be backed by Russia and China, which have warned the West to stay out of Syria and would likely veto any U.N. Security Council measure to punish the Syrians.
Beijing's official news agency also ran commentary Tuesday reminding the U.S. that it invaded Iraq in 2003 on the grounds that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and none were ever found.
“The recent flurry of consultations between Washington and its allies indicates that they have put the arrow on the bowstring and would shoot even without a U.N. mandate," the Xinhua agency said.
Assad is also backed by the Iranians.
While much of Washington is already on a war footing, most Americans, weary of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, have no appetite for attacking Syria, polls show.
And President Obama has also been reluctant to intercede in Syria — even after the murderous Assad regime apparently flouted his warning that it would be crossing a “red line” if it used chemical weapons.
Obama and intelligence officials fear that Al Qaeda and other Islamist groups have infiltrated the rebel ranks. And they don’t want Assad replaced with another authoritarian regime bent on turning secular Syria into an Islamic state.
But Obama started rattling a saber against Assad after video and photos surfaced on the Web showing bodies of dead Syrians without any visible wounds. Those were followed by reports from doctors on the scene who said the victims had been gassed.
— With News Wire Services