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U.S. Builds Its Case For Intervening In Syria


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Melissa Block. The Arab League says those behind last week's chemical weapons attack in Syria must face justice. The call came at an emergency meeting in Cairo, one day after the U.S. announced it has little doubt that Bashar al-Assad's regime was responsible for gassing civilians. The Obama administration says it has not yet decided whether to strike Syria but is consulting with allies, as NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says the U.S. intelligence community is building its case, and President Obama is weighing his options. Whatever is decided, Hagel tells the BBC, U.S. forces are ready.

CHUCK HAGEL: We are prepared. We have moved assets in place, to be able to fulfill and comply with whatever option the president wishes to take, if he wishes to take any of the options that he has - he's asked for.

KELEMEN: The White House is promising to release a new intelligence assessment this week, but Syria's foreign minister says the U.S. has a history of lying, including in Iraq. Walid al-Moallem says Syria has the means to defend itself and will, quote, "surprise everyone."

WALID AL-MOALLEM: (Speaking foreign language)

KELEMEN: If Syria is attacked, it has two options, he says; surrender or defend ourselves, and that, he adds, is the preferred option. The Syrian foreign minister blames rebels for a delay in the work of a U.N. chemical weapons team. A U.N. spokesman, Farhan Haq, would only say that all sides in the conflict need to make sure that the team, led by Swedish expert Ake Sellstrom, has safe passage.

FARHAN HAQ: And our expectation is that he will now be able to make that trip there tomorrow.

KELEMEN: The team's mandate is not to assign blame, but to confirm that chemical weapons have been used. The U.S. says it has no doubts about that, and won't let Syria use that U.N. inspection as a stalling tactic.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.