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Early Western Intel: Assad's Syrian Forces Used Chemical Arms

Early U.S. and European intelligence findings indicate that Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime carried out a chemical strike near Damascus on Wednesday, probably with backing from senior leaders, Reuters reported.

Russia on Friday joined other nations calling for a U.N. team now in Syria to investigate the alleged assault that might have killed hundreds of people, the Associated Press reported.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has dispatched a top disarmament official to the Syrian capital to formally request access to the scene of the alleged attack, according to a Thursday release.

The claims "need to be investigated without delay," his office said in a statement. Speaking on Friday, Ban said "it's a matter of time when we will participate (in the Syrian incident)," the Xinhua News Agency reported. The U.N. chief was to meet on Friday with officials from the United Kingdom, and top envoys from the United States and Qatar also would participate in talks, British Foreign Minister William Hague said in comments reported by Reuters.

President Obama in an interview aired Friday told CNN that Washington officials "don't expect cooperation" from officials in Bashar Assad's government."

Moscow, though, accused enemies of Bashar Assad's government of refusing "to guarantee the safety and effective work of U.N. experts on [rebel] territory," Reuters reported. The opposition in the country's civil war "is directly preventing an objective investigation into the possible use of chemical weapons in Syria," according to written comments released by the Russian Foreign Ministry.

The Western-backed Syrian National Coalition later said it would "ensure the safety of the U.N. team," the wire service reported separately.

"It is critical that those inspectors get there within 48 hours," spokesman Khaled Saleh said.

More than 30 nations have called for the U.N. investigation to expand its on-the-ground probe -- launched on Monday to review past chemical attack claims -- to include the latest allegations, USA Today reported. Syrian rebels have attributed 800 to 1,700 deaths to Wednesday's incident.

Independent analyses appeared to be coalescing around a view that the event involved sarin or another nerve agent, the London Guardian reported. Neighboring governments and Western powers are expected within days to obtain materials taken from the site of the alleged attack, according to the newspaper.

In his remarks to CNN, Obama said a chemical strike "starts getting to some core national interests that the United States has, both in terms of us making sure that weapons of mass destruction are not proliferating, as well as needing to protect our allies, our bases in the region."

He added, though, that "if the U.S. goes in and attacks another country without a U.N. mandate and without clear evidence that can be presented, then there are questions in terms of whether international law supports it [and] do we have the coalition to make it work."

The need for critical U.S. choices on Syria has grown more urgent, Obama indicated in the CNN interview. The Defense Department as of Thursday was revising options for possible air attacks against Syrian armed forces facilities and other sites controlled by Assad, the Wall Street Journal reported.

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