The United States has postponed a meeting with Russian officials scheduled for later this week to discuss the situation in Syria, as Washington weighs its response to allegations that Syrian forces used chemical weapons last week.
The talks Wednesday in the Hague were due to be the latest in the U.S.-Russian bid to find a political solution to the crisis.
A senior State Department official said late Monday the delay is in light of the "ongoing consultations" on how to respond to reports of chemical weapons use in Syria.
Russian Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Gennady Gatilov said Russia regrets the U.S. decision.
A White House spokesman said Monday there is "very little doubt" the Syrian government used chemical weapons, while Russia has dismissed the allegations saying Western nations have no proof of such an attack.
The U.S.-Russian effort to bring together the Syrian government and the opposition for peace talks has yet to result in negotiations. The State Department official says the U.S. remains committed to the process and will reschedule the planned talks with Russia.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday the use of chemical weapons in Syria is a "moral obscenity." He said President Barack Obama believes there must be accountability for those who would use what he called such "heinous weapons."
Mr. Obama is evaluating potential options, but has not decided on any response.
Stephen Zunes, a professor of Middle East studies at the University of San Francisco, says given the nature of the attacks, there is pressure on the United States to take military action. But he told VOA there are limits to what such strikes can accomplish.
"The impulse is quite understandable, but on a practical level it does not seem that it would make such a difference in terms of the military balance given that the rebel forces are divided into literally hundreds of different militia, some of which are as anti-Western or more so than the regime."
He says there is evidence the Syrian government has stored chemical weapons in populated areas, meaning airstrikes on those sites could release deadly toxins and cause casualties.
In addition to those limitations, Zunes says there is "no chance" that Russia and China would endorse military intervention at the U.N. Security Council.
Those nations have blocked three previous attempts to sanction President Bashar al-Assad's government.
President Obama said last year that chemical weapons use in Syria would cross a "red line,'' and likely would change his calculation in deciding on a U.S. response.
Earlier Monday, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said any action on Syria will be taken "in concert with the international community and within the framework of legal justification."
Some U.S. lawmakers, including Mr. Obama's opponent in the 2008 presidential election, Senator John McCain, have called for limited strikes against Syrian military targets.