There is growing speculation that the US could be moving closer to a military strike in Syria. This comes after the US cancelled a meeting with Russia to discuss ways of bringing the bloodshed in the country to an end.
Russia on Tuesday expressed regret that the United States had decided to cancel talks that were to have been held in The Hague on Wednesday.
"It arouses regret that our partners decided to cancel the bilateral meeting" Russia's deputy foreign minister, Gennady Gatilov wrote on the micro blogging website Twitter.
"Working out the political parameters for a resolution in Syria would be exceptionally useful now, when the threat of (military) force hangs over this country," he added.
US State Department, though, said that it had not cancelled, but only postponed the meeting, which was to involve Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and Ambassador Robert Ford. The State Department said it would work with its Russian counterparts to reschedule talks to discuss organizing an international peace conference for Syria.
This came amid increasing speculation that the US is preparing to take military action in Syria, following allegations that chemical weapons were used against civilians there last week.
Secretary of State John Kerry used a press conference in Washington on Monday to accuse the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of a cover up.
"Let me be clear. The indiscriminate slaughter of civilians, the killing of women and children and innocent bystanders by chemical weapons is a moral obscenity," he said. "By any standard it is inexcusable, and despite the excuses and equivocations that some have manufactured, it is undeniable," he said.
While he stopped short of directly pointing the finger at Assad, he indicated that the US had its own information on the events of last Wednesday, independent of that which United Nations weapons inspectors began to gather, when they visited the site of the alleged attack on Monday.
"We have additional information about this attack, and that information is being compiled and reviewed together with our partners, and we will provide that information in the days ahead," Kerry said.
Military strike speculation
Meanwhile, the Washington Post has reported that US President Barack Obama is considering limited military action in Syria. The report quoted unnamed senior US officials who said this action would last no more than two days and seek to avoid getting drawn into wider involvement in the conflict.
The New York Times published a similar report, in which it cited senior officials who said this could involve cruise missiles launched from US vessels in the Mediterranean Sea. It also ruled out a longer military campaign aimed at toppling Assad or influencing the outcome of the conflict.
Germany has not come out in support of military action, but on Monday, Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said that should the suspicions of the use of chemical weapons be confirmed, "then Germany will be among those [countries], that consider it right for there to be consequences."
France has also spoke of the need for some sort of action. Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told Europe 1 radio that while many options were open, "the only option that I do not envisage is doing nothing."
His British counterpart, William Hague, has gone as far as to say there was an argument to be made for military action, even without the approval of the UN Security Council.
There appears to be little hope of getting the Security Council to sign onto any military action, as Russia, which as a permanent member wields veto powers, is strictly opposed.
On Monday, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich warned that such a "gamble" could have "catastrophic consequences" not only for Syria, but also the entire region.
pfd/hc (AP, AFP, Reuters)