Syria Appears to Have Eased Off Preparations For Chemical Strike: Panetta

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Tuesday said the Bashar Assad regime appears to have eased off the pace of readiness work for a feared chemical attack on opposition forces in Syria, the Associated Press reported.

Intelligence sources last week cited work by the Syrian military to mix sarin nerve gas and load it into aerial munitions. The news drew fresh warnings that Damascus must refrain from using its chemical arsenal or face unspecified consequences.

"At this point the intelligence has really kind of leveled off. We haven't seen anything new indicating any aggressive steps to move forward [with chemical attacks]," Panetta said.

"We've made it pretty clear" that Assad must not proceed down that path, Panetta said. "Others have as well."

Damascus has written separate letters to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and to the current chairman of the U.N. Security Council expressing fear that Washington could be maneuvering to falsely accuse Syria of chemical weapons usage, CNN reported.

"The U.S. administration has consistently worked over the past year to launch a campaign of allegations on the possibility that Syria could use chemical weapons during the current crisis," the Syrian Foreign Ministry stated in the letters.

Syria reaffirmed it would not employ chemical arms but stuck to its policy of not admitting to WMD possession.

Damascus said it worried nonstate actors could be supplied by foreign nations with chemical warfare materials for use in attacks that would be blamed on the Assad regime.

December 11, 2012
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U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Tuesday said the Bashar Assad regime appears to have eased off the pace of readiness work for a feared chemical attack on opposition forces in Syria, the Associated Press reported.

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