Syria Strike Plans Advance as Allies Seek Support to Act

Photographer: Mohammad al-Hussein/AFP via Getty Images

The U.S. is concerned that letting the Syrian government go unpunished would send a signal to other countries that have large inventories of chemical weapons, as well as making it likely that the government of President Bashar al-Assad will attack civilians with such weapons again, according to a U.S. official. Close

The U.S. is concerned that letting the Syrian government go unpunished would send a... Read More

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Photographer: Mohammad al-Hussein/AFP via Getty Images

The U.S. is concerned that letting the Syrian government go unpunished would send a signal to other countries that have large inventories of chemical weapons, as well as making it likely that the government of President Bashar al-Assad will attack civilians with such weapons again, according to a U.S. official.

The U.S. and the U.K. today said they are prepared to take military action against Syria without authorization from the United Nations Security Council.

After Russia objected to a UN resolution offered by the U.K. authorizing action to protect civilians, a State Department spokeswoman said the U.S. will take “appropriate” action without the international body’s approval.

“We do not believe the Syrian regime should be able to hide behind the fact that the Russians continue to block action” at the UN, Marie Harf told reporters today.

“By far the best thing would be if the United Nations could be united, unlikely as that seems in the face of the vetoes from Russia and China that we’ve had in the past,” U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague told reporters in London. “But we have to try to do that. We’re clear that if there isn’t agreement at the United Nations, then we and other nations still have a responsibility on chemical weapons.”

The U.S. and its NATO allies began presenting their justification for military action against Syria as they advanced plans for launching strikes and prepared evidence that the Syrian government used chemical weapons on its own people.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen, secretary-general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, said after a meeting of allies today in Brussels that evidence from a “wide variety of sources” implicates the Syrian government in the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack that killed as many as 1,300 Syrians in eastern suburbs of Damascus, the capital.

International Threat

Using language that provides a basis for collective military action, he said, “We consider the use of chemical weapons as a threat to international peace and security.”

President Barack Obama and allied leaders are working to define the objectives of a military strike on Syria, according to a U.S. official. Any use of force won’t be limited to a one-day operation, said the official, who asked not to be identified discussing war-planning efforts.

The U.S. is concerned that letting the Syrian government go unpunished would send a signal to other countries, including North Korea, that have large inventories of chemical weapons, as well as making it likely that the Assad government will attack civilians with such weapons again, according to the U.S. official.

While the U.S. has warships and submarines carrying Tomahawk cruise missiles ready for action in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, any military move may still be days away, in part because a team of UN weapons inspectors needs at least two more days to complete its report.

Syrian Request

British Prime Minister David Cameron today acceded to Labour Party leader Ed Miliband’s demand that the inspectors be allowed to complete their report before Parliament begins a debate on whether to authorize military action against Syria.

At the UN today, Syrian ambassador Bashar Jaafari asked Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon to extend the inspectors’ investigation to include government allegations that rebel groups have used chemical weapons against Syrian troops on three occasions this month.

Amid the diplomatic dueling, the Obama administration is consulting with NATO allies including the U.K., France, Germany, and Turkey, as well as Arab nations such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, to determine which countries would participate in a military operation, the official said.

The alleged chemical weapons attack has fed calls for deeper global involvement in the 2 1/2-year Syrian civil war, with Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal calling for a “decisive and serious international stance,” the state-run Saudi Press Agency reported today.

Other Options

Among the options being explored are how to deter and degrade Syria’s chemical-weapons capability and defeat the Assad government’s defense capabilities, another U.S. official said, also speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal policy deliberations.

Separate discussions are being held on whether, when and how to accelerate and expand military and intelligence assistance to mainstream Syrian rebels groups in an effort to prevent extremist groups affiliated with al-Qaeda from reaping the benefits of Western attacks on the Assad regime, said a third U.S. official who requested anonymity to discuss possible covert action programs.

The prospect of a military confrontation in the Middle East, a region that produces 35 percent of the world’s oil, has rumbled through markets. Stock markets in the region slumped for a second day today as oil reached a two-year high.

Oil Rising

West Texas Intermediate oil climbed 0.8 percent to $109.89 a barrel as of 2:50 p.m. in New York after rising as much as 3 percent to $112.24. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index added 0.5 percent after the gauge sank 1.6 percent yesterday.

To bolster domestic and foreign support for military action, the Obama administration is working on declassifying intelligence to provide evidence that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces are responsible for the chemical attack.

That information will be viewed skeptically after flawed intelligence about Saddam Hussein’s supposed stockpile of weapons of mass destruction was used to justify the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, according to Anthony Cordesman, a military analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

The“systematic misuse of intelligence by policy makers before and after” the invasion of Iraq “did much to discredit the U.S. and its allies, to destroy trust in intelligence reports that cannot reveal every source and method, and in the motives of U.S. officials,” Cordesman said in a report posted today on the CSIS website.

Damaged Credibility

Any limits and flaws in the intelligence “will fuel every anti-American conspiracy theory in the region,” he said.

The confrontation with Syria will be at the forefront when Obama, Cameron and French President Francois Hollande join other leaders of the Group of 20 nations next week, hosted by Russian President Vladimir Putin in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Fyodor Lukyanov, the editor of Russia in Global Affairs, a Moscow-based foreign affairs magazine, said Putin’s government may boost aid to Assad’s regime in response to a strike against Syria. The differences with the West may freeze relations for some time.

“The situation you have today will remain and will get worse,” Lukyanov said in a telephone interview. If the U.S., U.K. and France lead military action against Syria, for Putin “the long-term the desire not to deal with the West will be very strong.”

Chinese Opposition

China signaled its opposition. The People’s Daily newspaper, published by the ruling Communist Party, carried an editorial today saying that some countries had passed a “verdict” on Syria before all facts were in and that action should only be taken in response to reliable investigations.

Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN and Arab League special envoy to Syria, told a news conference in Geneva today that he’s waiting to see what evidence is produced that Assad’s regime used chemical arms and that any action must have UN sanction.

“International law is clear,” Brahimi said. “It says military action must be taken after a decision by the Security Council.”

UN chemical inspectors today visited the site of alleged attacks in the Ghouta area, UN Secretary-General Ban said at a news conference in The Hague.

Members of the U.S. Congress, who don’t return from recess until Sept. 9, have been pressing Obama to seek their approval for any action by U.S. forces. Some, such as Representative Adam Smith of Washington, warned against getting dragged into the Syrian civil war.

Congressional Doubts

“Simply lashing out with military force under the banner of ‘doing something’ will not secure our interests in Syria,” Smith, the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, said in a statement.

Cameron also is encountering resistance. Opposition leader Ed Miliband offered tentative support for possible attacks after meeting Cameron yesterday, while saying his Labour Party won’t vote for military action over Syria without UN involvement.

If Labour opposes military action, Cameron may struggle to win approval from the House of Commons, as some of his own Conservative lawmakers have publicly expressed reluctance to back such a move.

As in the U.S., polls in Britain show a majority of the public opposes further involvement in the Syrian conflict.

Israel’s Defenses

Israel’s military bolstered defenses near the northern border, deploying a second Iron Dome missile defense system outside the city of Haifa and putting an Arrow missile defense battery on alert for medium-range weapons, the Ynet news site reported, without saying where it got the information.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said a strike on Syria would be a “disaster for the region,” according to the state-run Iranian Students News Agency. “This kindling of fire is like a spark in a room stocked with explosives because the consequences of it are unknown,” he was quoted as saying today in a meeting with officials.

To contact the reporters on this story: Terry Atlas in Washington at tatlas@bloomberg.net; Joe Sobczyk in Washington at jsobczyk@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: John Walcott at jwalcott9@bloomberg.net

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