PENTAGON.— U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta says the bombing that killed Syria's defense minister and other top officials of President Bashar al-Assad's security team Wednesday is a sign that violence in the country is out of control.
Secretary Panetta says Pentagon officials are very concerned by the increasing violence in Syria as the Assad government continues to hold on to power in the face of mounting pressure by rebels and the international community.
Panetta said the killing of Defense Minister Daoud Rajha and others represents a major escalation of violence, and that by ignoring calls to step down, President Bashar al-Assad is causing more loss of life. Panetta called for a political solution.
"This is a situation that is rapidly spinning out of control, and for that reason it's extremely important that the international community, working with other countries that have concerns in that area, have to bring maximum pressure on Assad to do what's right -- to step down and to allow for that peaceful transition," said Panetta.
The defense secretary spoke at a joint briefing with British Defense Minister Philip Hammond, who said he believes the Assad government is fragmenting as it fights to remain in power.
Panetta said the Assad government will be held responsible for safeguarding the country's chemical sites. He also had a warning for Iran, following new threats by Tehran to close the Strait of Hormuz -- the entrance to the Persian Gulf -- where a fifth of the world's oil passes through.
"The United States is fully prepared for all contingencies," said Panetta. "We've invested in capabilities to ensure that the Iranian attempt to close down shipping in the [Persian] Gulf is something that we're going to be able to defeat, if they make the decision to do that."
For years, Iran has threatened to close the strait, and U.S. forces have been preparing.
The Pentagon this week said the U.S. Navy is moving an aircraft carrier, the USS John C. Stennis, to the Persian Gulf earlier than scheduled to ensure that two carriers are present in the area at all times.
U.S. forces also are preparing to conduct a major minesweeping exercise in the Persian Gulf with several allied nations in September.