Tuesday, March 11, 2014
By KAREN DEYOUNG AND ANNE GEARAN The Washington Post
(Continued from page 1)
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel: "We have moved assets in place to be able to fulfill and comply with whatever option the president wishes to take."
As it continued to consult with other countries, the administration earned key support from the Arab League. In an emergency meeting in Cairo, the influential organization blamed Assad for last week's alleged attack and called for the perpetrators to be brought to international justice.
The 22 league members stopped well short of endorsing outside military action, but they urged the U.N. Security Council to agree on "deterrent" measures.
Saudi Arabia's longtime foreign minister added that a "decisive and serious" international stand is required against Syria.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem said Tuesday that charges of chemical weapons use by the government are "categorically baseless," according to the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency, and that Syria was committed to facilitating the U.N. inspection.
"We all hear the drums of war around us," Moualem said. "If they want to attack Syria, I think that using the lie of chemical weapons is fake and not accurate, and I challenge them to show evidence."
He said the idea of a Western military strike to change the balance of power in Syria, which has been embroiled in a vicious conflict for more than two years, is "delusional and not at all possible."
U.S. officials have said that any strike would be limited in scope and duration and would be intended as both punishment for the use of chemical weapons and as a deterrent. Options under consideration would target military installations, avoiding Syria's numerous and widely dispersed chemical storage sites, many of which are in civilian areas.
The administration remains reluctant to intervene directly in Syria's civil war, raising questions about its next step after a retaliatory strike against the regime.
"The conventional wisdom is that they will launch some Tomahawks [cruise missiles] from destroyers in the eastern Mediterranean. That's not going to dramatically change the course of events in Syria," said Ryan Crocker, a retired senior U.S. diplomat and former ambassador to Syria and Iraq.
To avenge what they called the "massacre" in the Damascus suburbs, al-Qaida-linked Islamist extremists among the rebels said Tuesday that they would strike Assad's security branches and infrastructure, according to a statement signed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, the Ahar al-Sham rebel group and seven other factions.