America is ready to take action against the Syrian regime and has “prepared options for all contingencies,” as Western leaders summon their advisers to discuss how to handle the crisis.
America ready to take action against Syria as Iran warns of ‘harsh consequences’ US Secretary of Defence Chuck Hagel
Harriet Alexander By Harriet Alexander
Chuck Hagel, the American defence secretary, said the US was still assessing the evidence from Wednesday’s chemical weapons attacks in Damascus, that are thought to have killed up to 1,300 people.
Four American warships have moved into the Mediterranean as President Barack Obama weighs up his options.
“President Obama has asked the defence department to prepare options for all contingencies. We have done that,” said Mr Hagel, speaking in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur as part of a southeast Asia tour.
“Again, we are prepared to exercise whatever option, if he decides to employ one of those options.”
Both the Syrian government and the rebels accuse each other of orchestrating the attack.
Late on Saturday night Omran Zoabi, the Syrian information minister, warned that any US-led military action would be “no picnic.”
“US military intervention will create a very serious fallout and a ball of fire that will inflame the Middle East,” he said.
Mr Hagel – unlike William Hague and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius – refused to point the finger of blame at President Assad.
“I wouldn’t go further than that, until we have more intelligence based on facts,” Mr Hagel said.
On Friday Mr Hague said that the chances the attack was carried out by the rebels “are vanishingly small.”
“We do believe this is a chemical attack by the Assad regime on a large scale, but we would like the United Nations to be able to assess that,” said Mr Hague.
During his flight to Malaysia from Hawaii, the American defence chief told reporters the American military was moving forces into place as needed, amid speculation Washington might opt for cruise missile strikes to punish Assad’s regime.
Medecins Sans Frontieres said 355 people had died of “neurotoxic” symptoms stemming from Wednesday’s incident, and that the three clinics they support had treated 3,600 patients within the Damascus suburbs.
But while the Americans consider their next move, Iran has spoken strongly against any intervention in Syria.
Massoud Jazayeri, the deputy chief of staff for the Iranian army, warned of “harsh consequences” if the West gets involved.
“If the United States crosses this red line, there will be harsh consequences for the White House,” he said.