The US defence chief said on Tuesday his forces were ready to launch strikes against the Syrian regime over alleged chemical attacks, amid growing Western and Arab calls for action.
Global stock markets dived and world oil prices hit a six-month high over fears of possible military intervention, as the drumbeat of war grew louder.
With oil prices rising, the crisis couldn’t have come at a worse time for India. The rupee is in freefall, markets are tanking and economy is virtually at a standstill. High oil prices will further widen the current account deficit that the government is struggling to control.
“We are prepared. We have moved assets in place to be able to fulfil and comply with whatever option the president (Obama) wishes to take,” US defence secretary Chuck Hagel said in Brunei.
Calling the use of chemical weapons a “moral obscenity”, secretary of state John Kerry said, “President Obama believes there must be accountability for those who would use the world’s most heinous weapons against the world’s most vulnerable people”.
Though he did not spell out the consequences, Kerry was making a case for military intervention, according to experts.
“The question now is not whether the United States will respond,” said Richard Haas of the Centre for Foreign Relations in a conference call, adding, “but only when.”
There have been reports of the US moving its warships into the region in preparation of a cruise missile strike, which, Haas offered, was one of the possibilities.
Senior military officers from Western and Muslim countries met in Jordan to discuss the regional impact of the war in Syria, wrapping up a two-day meeting on Tuesday.
India will be watching the developments closely, having tried and failed earlier to end the dispute, working with its IBSA partners Brazil and South Africa.
The Washington Post cited senior US officials as saying the action would probably last no more than two days and involve missiles or long-range bombers, striking military targets not directly linked to Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal.
In Paris, French President Francois Hollande said his country was “ready to punish” those behind the alleged chemical attacks.
Britain said its armed forces were drawing up contingency plans, and Prime Minister David Cameron recalled parliament from its summer break to debate the crisis.