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August 25, 2013

Washington Week: Focus on Syria

by Michael Bowman

Washington is focused on a possible U.S. response to evidence of chemical weapons use in Syria. U.S. naval forces have moved closer to Syria, and the Obama administration is weighing options amid U.N. efforts to pinpoint the cause of hundreds of deaths last week near Damascus.
 
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says America’s armed forces are ready to act on any orders President Barack Obama may give in response to events in Syria.
 
“President Obama has asked the Defense Department to prepare options for all contingencies. We have done that and, again, we are prepared to exercise whatever options if he decides to employ one of those options,” said Hagel.
 
Saturday, the president met with his national security team and spoke with British Prime Minister David Cameron. A statement from London said the two leaders agree that “significant use of chemical weapons would merit a serious response from the international community.”
 
The United Nations says an inspection team has been promised access to locations where chemical agents are believed to have been used. The Syrian government blames rebels for any release of toxins. Rebel commanders say the Assad regime has consistently lied to the world.
 
A hands-off approach by the United States is unacceptable, according to Syrian National Coalition President Ahmad al-Jarba.
 
“I ask and demand that the president of the United States, Barack Obama, as the head of the country that has the strongest presence in the international community, takes personal responsibility for what has happened.”
 
For now, Western governments want confirmation that chemical weapons have been used. Meguerditch Terzian of the international relief group Doctors Without Borders is convinced that some form of neurotoxin was released in Syria.
 
“If there is a massive arrival of patients within a short period of time from the same location with neurotoxic symptoms, with a lot of deaths, it means that a serious neurotoxic agent has been used in Damascus recently,” said Terzian.
 
Evidence of chemical weapons use has been widely condemned, including by one of Syria’s staunchest allies, Iran.