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U.S. Increasing Collaboration With Turkey Amid Syria WMD Fears

The United States is quietly ratcheting up defense meetings and intelligence exchanges with Turkey, which shares Washington's concerns that a chemical weapons crisis could erupt in neighboring Syria, the Washington Post reported on Saturday.

The U.S. government insists it is not interested in a military intervention in Syria, where a 19-month civil war is projected to have claimed the lives of over 30,000 people.

Still, the Obama administration and European and Middle Eastern allies fear security around Syria's substantial arsenal of chemical weapons could become weakened. Worries focus on the possibility that nonstate actors might acquire weapons of mass destruction, or that the Bashar Assad regime -- in a last ditch attempt to stave off total power collapse -- could violate previous pledges and mount chemical strikes against dissidents. These worries have led the U.S. government to deploy military advisers to Jordan in accordance with efforts to prepare for a possible Syrian chemical incident.

At the same time, U.S. and Turkish defense officials are discussing the possibility of snatching Syrian chemical and biological warfare materials, unidentified U.S. officials told the Post.

"I can certainly assure you that our militaries, our military officers, are in contact," U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Francis Ricciardone said to reporters on Tuesday. "This week, I know there is a special focus of our military experts talking about Syria. And what militaries do well is plan for every contingency and every eventuality."

President Obama has said his "red line" for military intervention would be if Damascus uses or is seen to be preparing to use WMD in attacks against opposition forces.

However, defense specialists contend the most potent chemical threat is not a regime attack but the proliferation of chemical agents to regional extremist organizations such as Hezbollah and al-Qaida.

"There is a concern that we may see a repeat of Afghanistan and Iraq, where the region was faced with hundreds of radicalized young men with military experience," said Mohammed Abu Rumman, a specialist on Islamist organizations at the University of Jordan, in an interview with Deutsche Presse-Agentur.

To address these worries, government insiders say Jordan and the United States have set up a surveillance outpost not far from the Syria-Jordan boundary line. The United Kingdom has also dispatched specialists to support surveillance activities there.

"We are very concerned about the security of Syria's chemical weapons and are working closely with Syria's neighbors including Jordan, to prevent them from falling into the hands of third parties," U.K. embassy in Amman spokesman Rana Najem said.

At present, deployed Western military personnel are confining their activities in Jordan to preparing for WMD contingency scenarios, strengthening border defenses against proliferation, and surveillance of Syrian chemical sites. However, analysts believe those activities could be augmented to include new duties at a "moment's notice" in the event of an emergency.

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NTI Analysis

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