Western nations are prepping for possible military intervention after claiming the Syrian regime used chemical weapons on civilians. With opposition in the UN, a strike would likely not have international approval.
US Secretary of State Chuck Hagel said Tuesday that military forces in the region were "ready to go" if given the order by President Barack Obama.
"We have moved assets in place to be able to fulfill … whatever option the president wishes to take," Hagel said.
The White House said there was "no doubt" that the Assad regime was at fault for a chemical weapons attack that killed hundreds of people in Syria last week. Vice President Joe Biden affirmed the US position, telling a veterans group: "There is no doubt who is responsible for this heinous use of chemical weapons in Syria: The Syrian regime."
No final US decision
Obama is currently considering his options, including speaking with the leaders of Canada and Britain, but his spokesman Jay Carney said a final decision has not been made. The US has said, however, that they are not seeking a "regime change" in Syria, implying their strikes would not be meant to topple Assad.
Of an intelligence report into the alleged attack, Carney said he believed “you could expect it this week,” suggesting the US would publish evidence it claims to possess.
President Bashar al-Assad's Syrian government has denied using chemical weapons. The regime warned through Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem on Tuesday that it had the “means to defend ourselves," should foreign troops intervene in the country.
Britain, France making plans
British Prime Minister David Cameron recalled parliament for further debate on Syria for Thursday, saying contingency plans were being drawn up for a military intervention that would be a "proportionate response" to the Assad government's alleged chemical weapons attack.
Cameron said that potential military strikes in Syria would be "specific" and would avoid drawing western allies deeper into the country's civil war.
French President Francois Hollande, meanwhile, said he was "ready to punish" Assad for using chemical weapons.
UN mandate unlikely
There has been firm opposition from Russia and China, permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, to the claims made by the US and other western governments. Without their support, the kind of UN mandate that legalized the 2011 NATO operation in Libya appears unlikely.
Beijing and Moscow have accused Western countries of using human rights as a guise for interfering in the conflict. China's state news agency cited the false evidence of weapons of mass destruction used to justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which led to a decade-long military occupation that left more than 100,000 people dead.
Russia, meanwhile, has suggested that rebel forces, not the Syrian government, may be responsible for the chemical attack.
Earlier on Tuesday, a team of United Nations chemical weapons inspectors was denied the opportunity to continue their research into the alleged attack. Al-Moallem blamed rebels for refusing to guarantee the convoy's safety, a claim the rebels disputed.
The investigative team has suffered several setbacks, starting with the delay until Sunday before it was first authorized to visit the site of the latest alleged chemical attack.
The team's convoy then came under sniper fire when they tried to reach a field hospital on Monday. The government and rebels blamed each other for this attack; the UN appealed to both sides to let their staff work in safety.
dr,ph/jm (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)