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U.S. Military ‘Ready to Go’ for Syria, Assad Warns Strike Would Be ‘Failure’

August 27, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
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JUDY WOODRUFF: The eyes of the world were focused on Washington and other Western capitals today amid rising expectations that an attack on Syria is coming soon.

The Obama administration insisted again there is no doubt the Assad regime used chemical weapons last week in a Damascus suburb. Inside the White House, the emphasis was on laying the legal groundwork for a possible military strike in Syria.

Spokesman Jay Carney pointed out that nearly 190 nations have signed a convention opposing the use of chemical weapons.

JAY CARNEY, White House Press Secretary: There must be a response. Kerry made that clear at the president’s instruction yesterday. I echoed that here yesterday and I’m echoing it again today. There must be a response. We cannot allow this kind of violation of an international norm with all the attendant grave consequences that it represents to go unanswered.

What form that response will take is what the president is assessing now with his team.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Whatever form it takes, Carney was quick to say the goal will be limited.

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JAY CARNEY: I want to make clear that the options that we are considering are not about regime change. They are about responding to a clear violation of an international standard that prohibits the use of chemical weapons.

JUDY WOODRUFF: As President Obama pondered his options, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, visiting Brunei, told the BBC the U.S. military is set once a decision is made.

DEFENSE SECRETARY CHUCK HAGEL: Our allies, our partners, leaders all over the world have said, let’s get the facts, let’s get the intelligence, and then a decision will be made on whether action should be taken, if action should be taken, what action, or no action.

QUESTION: But if the order comes, you’re ready to go like that?

CHUCK HAGEL: We’re ready to go like that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Syrian President Bashar Assad remained defiant. He told a state-run news agency that if the U.S. strikes, it will face, in his words, “what it has been confronted with in every war since Vietnam: failure.”

Echoing that, Assad’s deputy foreign minister said his country would respond swiftly if attacked.

FAISAL MEKDAD, Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister: We know how to defend ourselves. But as the Americans, the British and the French have failed in Afghanistan and Iraq and other places, they will fail in Syria, and there will be a high price, not only for them, but for international peace and security.

JUDY WOODRUFF: In Britain, there was a flurry of activity in and out of 10 Downing Street, as Prime Minister David Cameron called Parliament into session this Thursday to consider action.

PRIME MINSTER DAVID CAMERON, Britain: Let me stress to people this is not about getting involved in a Middle Eastern war or changing our stance in Syria or going further into that conflict. It’s nothing to do with that. It’s about chemical weapons. Their use is wrong. And that would shouldn’t stand idly by.

JUDY WOODRUFF: In Paris, French President Francois Hollande said his country favors action as well.

PRESIDENT FRANCOIS HOLLANDE, France (through interpreter): The chemical massacre in Damascus cannot be left without a response, and France is ready to punish those who took the despicable decision to gas the innocent.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The Arab League also spoke out at an emergency meeting in Cairo. It accused Syria of using chemical weapons, without directly endorsing the use of force by Western powers.

NABIL ELARABY, Arab League Secretary-General (through interpreter): I condemn the attack and I call upon the international inspectors from the United Nations who are present in Damascus to go immediately to the area of the attack to find out the truth behind these crimes. It is an international violation of human rights. And the ones who committed the crime must be dealt with according to the international justice system.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But at a Syrian refugee camp in Jordan, many who have been forced to flee their homeland said the West cannot act soon enough.

ABU YASSER, Syrian refugee (through interpreter): We totally support an American military strike against Bashar al-Assad. We hope — the Syrian people hope that a military operation will start soon. What are they waiting for?

UM MOHAMMAD, Syrian refugee (through interpreter): We all support such a decision because countries have not supported us. The Arab and Western countries have failed us and let us down. But if they decide to interfere militarily against Bashar’s regime, God bless them.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Meanwhile, U.N. inspectors remained at a Damascus hotel, a potential complication for Western military planners. The team postponed visiting the site of the alleged gas attack today, citing security concerns.