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Obama meets with security team to mull Syria options
President Obama held a meeting with his national security team Saturday to review the deteriorating situation in Syria, which saw rebels accuse the regime of President Bashar al-Assad this week of using chemical weapons in an artillery attack on suburban Damascus.
The White House says Mr. Obama is still trying to determine whether chemical weapons were in fact used, but an official insisted the president still has “a range of options available.”
Mr. Obama also spoke with British Prime Minister David Cameron on a call where the two men discussed options. Some European have gone further than the Obama administration in urging a more direct role in the Syrian conflict.
Several hundred Syrians, including women and children, were killed in the Wednesday attack, though both the exact death toll and details of the attack remain murky.
Indeed, while the rebels have blamed the government, the regime has denied it used chemical weapons and has even blamed rebels for deploying them.
The U.N. already had a chemical weapons investigation team on the ground in Syria to look into previous alleged attacks, and those officials are trying to gain access to the site of the latest attack.
While not reaching any conclusions, the Obama administration for now appears to be investigating along the same lines as the rebels’ accusations.
“In coordination with international partners and mindful of the dozens of contemporaneous witness accounts and record of the symptoms of those killed, the U.S. intelligence community continues to gather facts to ascertain what occurred,” the White House said in a statement Saturday afternoon.
While the White House says it retains a number of options, the Pentagon appears not to be eager to use direct military force.
In a letter this week to a top member of Congress, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said attempting to establish a no-fly zone over Syria to prevent the government from using air power against the rebels would be possible, but it would not be decisive in breaking the regime’s hold on power, and could end up being the precursor to the U.S. having to get more deeply involved in the conflict.
The U.N. says more than 100,000 Syrians have died in the civil war, which began in 2011.
Amid the growing international pressure, Syrian state media announced early on Sunday an agreement with the United Nations to allow inspectors to visit the site of last week’s alleged chemical weapons attack.
Syrian media said the U.N. team will have access to the locations outside Damascus reportedly hit by chemical agents on Aug. 22.
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