BANDER SERI BEGAWAN, Brunei — U.S. forces are now ready to act on any order by President Barack Obama to strike Syria, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Tuesday.
The U.S. Navy has four destroyers in the eastern Mediterranean Sea positioned within range of targets inside Syria, as well as U.S. warplanes in the region, Hagel said in an interview with BBC television during his visit to the southeast Asian nation of Brunei.
Hagel also predicted that U.S. intelligence agencies would soon conclude that last week's deadly attack on civilians in a Damascus suburb was a chemical attack by Bashar Assad's government.
Obama asked the Pentagon to give him "all options for all contingencies," Hagel said, and "we have done that."
Syria says it will defend itself against attack
Syria's foreign minister said Tuesday that his country would defend itself using "all means available" in case of a U.S. strike, denying categorically his government was behind a purported chemical-weapons attack near Damascus and challenging Washington to present proof backing up its accusations.
Walid al-Moallem also said a second trip by United Nations experts to the site of last week's purported attack has been delayed because of disputes among rebel groups.
Al-Moallem spoke at a news conference in Damascus, a day after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry stated there was "undeniable" evidence of a large-scale chemical attack likely launched by the regime of President Bashar Assad.
Arab League accuses Syria of chemical attack
The Arab League has blamed the Syrian government for last week's alleged chemical weapons attack near Damascus that killed hundreds, calling for the perpetrators to be brought to justice.
In an emergency meeting held Tuesday, the Arab League also called on members of the U.N. Security Council to overcome their differences and agree on "deterrent" measures against those who committed "this heinous crime." The League said it will convene a meeting at the ministerial level next week to follow up on the situation in Syria.
Britain recalls Parliament to discuss Syria
Prime Minister David Cameron on Tuesday recalled Parliament for an urgent discussion and vote on a possible military response to the alleged chemical attack in Syria.
Cameron said the crisis session will be held Thursday, when Parliament would traditionally be on its summer recess. A clear motion will be considered by lawmakers, who have been urging Cameron to consult Parliament before any possible action against Syria.
Cameron's office said that the U.K. is considering a "proportionate" response that would deter Assad from using chemical weapons in the future.
The decision on the recall came as the military drew up contingency plans for a possible military attack on Syria.
Read tomorrow's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.