(CBS/AP) -- Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said Tuesday that the world's most
powerful military was "in place to be able to fulfill and comply with
whatever option the president wishes to take" in Syria, but he suggested
the Obama administration would wait for more facts on the alleged
chemical attack in the Damascus suburbs before committing to a response
of any kind.
Videos of victims -- including dozens of
young children -- convulsing and gasping for breath after the Aug. 21
attack in the eastern Ghouta suburbs of the Syrian capital have
dramatically increased calls for military intervention in the country's
two-and-a-half-year old crisis, with the U.S., Israel and some European
nations suggesting President Bashar Assad's regime was behind the attack
and must be rendered incapable of further chemical strikes.
"I think it's pretty clear that chemical weapons were used against people in Syria," Hagel told the BBC on Tuesday.
"I think the intelligence will conclude that it wasn't the rebels who
used it, and there will probably be pretty good intelligence to show
that the Syria government was responsible. But we'll wait and determine
what the facts and the intelligence bear out."
Hagel spoke as United Nations weapons inspectors attempted to
continue their work in the Ghouta area Tuesday, with a mandate to
determine conclusively whether chemical weapons were used in the strikes
last week -- but not to assign blame.
Secretary of State
John Kerry said Monday there was "undeniable" evidence of a large-scale
chemical weapons attack in the Ghouta area, with U.S. intelligence
strongly pointing to Assad's government as the guilty party.
On Tuesday, the Syrian regime lashed out at the presumptions of guilt
from Washington and Europe, with Foreign Minister Walid Muallem
demanding that the White House and its allies "produce the evidence"
that his government was responsible for unleashing deadly chemicals in
Kerry's tough language marked the clearest justification yet for U.S.
military action in Syria which, if President Obama decides to act,
would most likely involve sea-launched cruise missile attacks on Syrian military targets.
Obama administration has resisted pressure from inside Washington, and
from Assad's staunch foes in Turkey and Europe, to take action in Syria
without a clear mandate from the United Nations Security Council, where
Russia and China have repeatedly blocked harsh sanctions against the
But CBS News correspondent Major Garrett reported that in a weekend meeting at the White House, the Obama administration seemed united
behind the idea of an attack on Assad's forces -- with or without a
U.N. mandate -- and the President ordered a declassified report to be
prepared laying out the justification for such action.
and when the U.S. does strike in Syria, it will not be alone. Below is a
breakdown of what officials from some other key nations have said
regarding military action against Assad's regime; some vowing to take
part in any military intervention regardless of the U.N., while others
insist any military action without a U.N. mandate would be illegal, and
likely exacerbate the crisis.
Prime Minister David Cameron
recalled Parliament Tuesday for an urgent discussion on a possible
military response in Syria. Cameron said the crisis session would be
held Thursday for a clear government motion and vote on the British
response to a chemical weapons attack in Syria.
Secretary William Hague said earlier that disagreements among the five
U.N. Security Council members have prevented action over Syria for too
long and "complete unity" wasn't necessary to launch a response.
"We cannot in the 21st century allow the idea that chemical weapons can be used with impunity," he said.
Cameron's spokesman said Britain reserves "the ability to take action swiftly if needed."
Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said
Monday that his country would take part in an international coalition
against Assad's regime if the U.N. failed to come up with sanctions to
punish Syria for the alleged use of chemical weapons.
comments published in the Milliyet newspaper, Davutoglu said Turkey's
priority was to act according to U.N. decisions, but the country would
join a coalition if there was no U.N. mandate. He said "36 or 37"
countries were already discussing options, but he did not list those
As one of the Assad government's strongest critics, Turkey is backing the Syrian opposition and rebels.
President Francois Hollande said time is running out for the Syrian regime and airstrikes are a possibility.
will come into play this week," he told Le Parisien newspaper on
Monday. "There are several options on the table, ranging from
strengthening international sanctions to airstrikes to arming the
Hollande spoke with President Obama on Sunday and
told him France would support him in a targeted military intervention,
according to the paper.
"It's still too early to say
categorically what will happen," he was quoted as saying. "The U.N.
experts are going to investigate on site. We also have to allow time for
the diplomatic process. But not too much. We can't go without a
reaction when confronted with chemical weapons."
The German government has suggested for
the first time it may support the use of force if a chemical weapons
attack is confirmed in Syria.
"The suspected large-scale
use of poison gas breaks a taboo even in this Syrian conflict that has
been so full of cruelty," according to Steffen Seibert, a spokesman for
Chancellor Angela Merkel. "It's a serious breach of the international
Chemical Weapons Convention, which categorically bans the use of these
weapons. It must be punished, it cannot remain without consequences."
has "very clear evidence that this was a chemical weapons attack,"
Seibert said. He declined to speculate on what kind of response might
now be needed in Syria, but repeatedly refused to rule out the use of
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov accused
the countries calling for action against Assad's regime of assuming the
role of "both investigators and the U.N. Security Council" in probing
"They cannot produce evidence, but keep on
saying that the 'red line' has been crossed and they cannot wait any
longer," he said Monday at a Moscow news conference.
likened the situation in Syria to the run-up before the 2003 Iraq
invasion. He warned against military intervention in Syria, saying "the
use of force without a sanction of the U.N. Security Council is a crude
violation of international law."
China's official action has been muted;
limited to vague calls for all sides to remain calm and allow the U.N.
investigators to get on with their work, but the communist nation's
state-controlled media made it clear in editorials and statements
attributed to leaders that the government was opposed to any military
action without a U.N. mandate.
"Such rhetoric, as well as
the recent flurry of consultations between Washington and its allies,
indicates that they have put the arrow on the bowstring and would shoot
even without a U.N. mandate," state-run news agency Xinhua said in an
"That would be irresponsible
and dangerous. For starters, the current scenario is reminiscent of the
lead-up to the Iraq War, which the United States staged with
allegations about weapons of mass destruction that later turned out to
"We want to strongly warn against any
military attack in Syria. There will definitely be perilous consequences
for the region," Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Araqchi said
"These complications and consequences will not be restricted to Syria. It will engulf the whole region."
President Assad's most vital ally in the region, has continued to
support his regime both materially and diplomatically throughout the
war. Tehran also backs the Islamic fundamentalist group Hezbollah, which
is based just to the west of Syria in Lebanon and which has sent
fighters to help Assad's forces against the rebels.