Defence secretary Chuck Hagel said on Sunday the US military was ready to take action against the Syrian regime if ordered, but stressed that Washington was still evaluating claims of a chemical weapons attack.|
“President Obama has asked the defence department to prepare options for all contingencies. We have done that,” Hagel told reporters in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur.
“Again, we are prepared to exercise whatever option, if he decides to employ one of those options.”
He said the US and its allies were assessing intelligence on allegations that president Bashar al-Assad’s forces unleashed chemical weapons in an attack near Damascus last week as he battles an uprising that began in March 2011.
“I wouldn’t go further than that, until we have more intelligence based on facts,” Hagel said.
Hagel spoke after a meeting with his Malaysian counterpart, Hishammuddin Hussein, as he started a week-long Southeast Asia tour to stress Washington’s much-touted renewed focus on the Asia-Pacific region.
But his attention has been diverted by crisis in Syria and Egypt, where security forces have cracked down on supporters of ousted Islamist president Mohammed Morsi.
Hagel phoned Egypt’s army chief to appeal for a peaceful resolution of political conflicts there, and has been in touch with US national security advisers on Syria. Obama and British PM David Cameron appeared to move closer to pinning blame on Assad’s forces.