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Syria has come under scrutiny after allegations of using chemical weapons against civilians came to light.

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EVERETT – In March, the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz left its home port in Everett with 3,000 crew members on board. At the time, family members were told they were being deployed for six to 10 months. Now it’s unclear how long they’ll be gone.

South Korea Koreas TensionThe aircraft carrier reportedly had been relieved by the USS Harry S Truman in recent days and was set to sail back home. But early Monday, it was re-routed to the Red Sea instead.

“When it was the USS Lincoln, we prayed for them and we worried about them,” says Everett resident Mike Sams. “Now it’s the Nimitz. They’re doing their job and we have to support them the best way we can.”

Sams was in the Air Force and he has two sons currently serving overseas. So he understands what it’s like for the family members who are now wondering when they’ll see their loved ones again.

“I don’t worry about having sons in the armed forces. I believe it’s our duty to help protect the interests of this country. The military is one way to do that. We’re very proud of the fact they’re serving.”

He knows there are some people who question why the United States may strike Syria, and if it’s worth putting local lives at stake.

“When I was in the service, you went where they sent you and you did what they told you to do. And you trusted that the people in charge were making good decisions. I guess we still have to do that. Whatever we need to do to keep America strong and keep our interests alive in whatever region we’re in, it’s OK with me,” Sams said.

The crew of the Nimitz keep both a Facebook and Twitter page to stay in touch. They haven’t updated those in the last couple days, but late last week the captain wrote:  “We do not yet know the extent of our continued involvement, but I have every confidence that no matter what we are called to do, we will be successful.”

(CNN) — Three countries — Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey — have offered the United States use of their military assets for action against Syria, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told American lawmakers, sources said Monday.

obamaThose were the first three countries to do so, and other countries are expected to as well, Kerry said in a phone call to Democratic lawmakers, according to two people who were on the call.

The prospect of military strikes has resulted in about 100 defections from the Syrian military, he said on the call, according to the sources.

A total of 127 Democrats from the House of Representatives were on the call, a Democratic aide told CNN.

But the tough sell for action was clear in the call. When Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said collateral damage from a strike is expected to be low, some lawmakers questioned how officials could know that.

Two senior Arab diplomats said talks with Saudi Arabia and the UAE are preliminary, and no details have been discussed. But two leading Republican senators who met with President Barack Obama on Monday said the administration signaled increased support for Syria’s opposition in a bid to shift the balance of power in Syria’s 2 1/2-year-old civil war.

“There seems to be emerging from this administration a pretty solid plan to upgrade the opposition,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

And Sen. John McCain, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he was more supportive of a limited U.S. strike after the meeting, partly because of the prospect of that increased support. But both senators said they needed more detailed assurances that the U.S. strategy would be sufficiently strong and sustainable before they could endorse it to their colleagues.

Administration officials will be conducting classified briefings on Syria for Congress nearly every day this week. Obama will meet Tuesday morning with House Speaker John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, congressional aides said, and he’d already planned talks with the leaders of the key national security committees in the House and Senate.

One of those, House Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon, told CNN the administration will have to overcome “a lot of distrust among the American people” about the intelligence that fingers Syria’s government in a poison gas attack outside Damascus in late August.

“There will be a real questioning as to the veracity of the evidence and if this really happened or not,” McKeon, R-California, said in an interview with CNN’s Barbara Starr. “It will be necessary to explain and prove to the American people, and I think the only person who can really do that is the president of the United States.”

But McCain said it would be “catastrophic” for Congress to reject Obama’s call to authorize U.S. military force, adding it would “undermine the credibility of the United States and the president of the United States.”

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, meanwhile, warned that a regional war could break out if Syria is attacked.

“The Middle East is a powder keg, and the fire is approaching today,” he told French newspaper Le Figaro in an interview Monday.

“One must not speak only of the Syrian response, but rather what could be produced after the first strike. Because nobody can know what will happen. Everyone will lose control of the situation when the powder keg explodes. Chaos and extremism will spread. The risk of a regional war exists.”

Syria has repeatedly denied being behind an August 21 chemical weapons attack that killed hundreds of people.

While a U.N. probe is under way, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Sunday there’s “an overwhelming case” that Syria was behind the attack.

Blood and hair samples obtained from first responders through an “appropriate chain of custody” have “tested positive for signatures of sarin” gas, Kerry said on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday.

It’s unclear exactly how the United States obtained the material independently of the United Nations.

Al-Assad told Le Figaro, “We have challenged the United States and France to give a single piece of evidence.” Obama and French President Francois Hollande, whose government has also called for action against Syria, “have been incapable” of providing it, he insisted.

He also questioned “the logic” of carrying out an attack that injured Syrian soldiers as well.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Monday that “many facts in this case point to the regime as responsible for the chemical attacks.”

He called for a “firm international response.”

“It would send a very, I would say, dangerous signal to dictators all over the world if we stand idly by and don’t react,” he said.

But NATO itself won’t take military action against Syria.

NATO is prepared to protect Turkey, a NATO member, if Syria attacks it, Rasmussen said. The alliance has deployed Patriot missiles to the country, he said. But, he added, “I don’t foresee any further NATO role in Turkey. It is for individual nations to decide how to react to what has happened in Syria.”

Local News

USS Nimitz to remain in Middle East

South Korea Koreas TensionEVERETT — The Everett-based USS Nimitz will remain in the Middle East for some time as the U.S. increases its presence in the Persian Gulf in the face of increasing tension and alleged chemical weapons attacks in Syria.

The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier will join four other destroyers ordered to move toward more advantageous position in case an airstrike on Syria is called, RT News reported early Monday. The Nimitz was slated to return to its home port in Everett after being released from duty by the USS Harry S. Truman.

No final decision on the location of the Nimitz has been made, RT News reported, saying it would possibly end up in the Red Sea or the Mediterranean. Five destroyers are currently employed in the Mediterranean, carrying an estimated load of 200 Tomahawk missiles.

More than 100,000 people have been killed and millions displaced in a civil war that has gripped the Middle East country for more than 2 1/2 years. President Obama has declined to launch a limited military strike against Syria without the approval of Congress.


National & World News

Obama: ‘No boots on the ground’ in Syria

obama syria(CNN) — A U.S. intelligence report assessed with “high confidence” that Syria’s government planned and launched last week’s chemical weapons attack that killed more than 1,400 people, Secretary of State John Kerry said Friday in releasing details intended to muster support at home and abroad for a military response.

Citing evidence including video footage of children and other victims lying dead with no visible wounds, Kerry said such “indiscriminate, inconceivable horror of chemical weapons” is what Syrian President Bashar al-Assad “did to his own people.”

Kerry’s statement and the release of the declassified intelligence report came as President Barack Obama’s administration faced rising resistance to a military strike against the Syrian regime in response to its use of banned chemical weapons.

Britain’s Parliament voted against joining a coalition sought by Obama to respond militarily, denying the president a key NATO ally that has steadfastly supported previous campaigns.

Other European allies support action against Syria but want the United Nations to lead the effort, something Kerry said would not happen because of opposition by permanent Security Council member Russia, a Syrian ally.

At home, questions about the veracity of the U.S. intelligence and whether Washington is headed for another war based on false information — like happened in Iraq — have emerged from both parties in Congress.

Kerry: “We will not repeat” Iraq

Kerry insisted Friday that the situation differs from Iraq, saying the intelligence community “reviewed and re-reviewed” its information “more than mindful of the Iraq experience.” And he added: “We will not repeat that moment.”

He cited particular evidence that shows al-Assad’s regime was responsible.

“We know that for three days before the attack, the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons personnel were on the ground in the area, making preparations,” Kerry said. “And we know that the Syrian regime elements were told to prepare for the attack by putting on gas masks and taking precautions associated with chemical weapons.”

In addition, “we know where the rockets were launched from, and at what time,” he said. “We know where they landed, and when. We know rockets came only from regime-controlled areas and went only to opposition-controlled or contested neighborhoods.”

Quoting from the U.S. assessment, Kerry said the attack killed 1,429 people, including more than 400 children.

“We assess with high confidence that the Syrian government carried out the chemical weapons attack against opposition elements in the Damascus suburbs,” he said.

Al-Assad’s government has claimed that jihadists fighting on the opposition’s side carried out the chemical weapons attacks on August 21 to turn global sentiments against it. Senior administration officials told reporters Friday there is no evidence to support that claim.

Citing support from the Arab League, Turkey and France, Kerry said, “We are not alone in our will to do something” in response to the attack. He brushed off the British Parliament vote against joining a military invention, saying that the United States “makes our own decisions on our own timelines, based on our values and our interests” in deciding the proper course of action.

Read the full assessment

Meanwhile, the U.N. mission investigating the suspected chemical weapons attack in Syria has completed its collection of samples, said Martin Nesirky, spokesman for the U.N. secretary-general.

Nesirky told reporters that inspectors visited a government military hospital in Damascus and the last of them will leave Syria on Saturday.

Even as the inspection was winding down, opposition activists said Friday there is evidence of another deadly chemical weapons attack in Syria. Seven people died and dozens were injured Monday in the attack on a school in northern Syria.

As the U.N. inspectors began leaving Syria on Friday, Obama met with his national security team amid continuing U.S. signals of a possible military attack.

A U.N. Security Council meeting on Syria ended in deadlock Thursday, and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon met Friday with the panel’s five permanent members to try to find consensus. So far, opposition to any military response by Syrian ally Russia has scuttled U.N. action, and Kerry expressed little hope for a breakthrough.

“Because of the guaranteed Russian obstructionism of any action through the U.N. Security Council, the U.N. cannot galvanize the world to act as it should,” he said.

While noting that he and the nation are “tired of war,” Kerry said such fatigue “does not absolve us of our responsibility.”

“Just longing for peace does not necessarily bring it about, and history would judge us all extraordinarily harshly if we turned a blind eye to a dictator’s wanton use of weapons of mass destruction against all warnings, against all common understanding of decency,” he said.

While the British vote was a blow to Obama’s hopes of getting strong support from key NATO allies and some Arab League states, regional NATO ally Turkey on Friday backed the U.S. contention that al-Assad’s regime was responsible for the chemical attack.

“The information at hand indicates that the opposition does not have these types of sophisticated weapons,” said Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. “From our perspective, there is no doubt that the regime is responsible.”

Iran: U.S. military action in Syria would spark ‘disaster’

Alone or together?

The White House has made clear that the United States will respond in some form to the Syrian use of banned chemical weapons, but said Obama is still deciding exactly what to do.

Previously, the White House ruled out U.S. troops on the ground or imposing a no-fly zone. Sources have indicated a campaign of limited strikes by cruise missiles fired from U.S. naval ships in the region, targeting military command centers but not chemical weapons stockpiles, is the likely option.

However, the British Parliament’s vote and demands by other key European allies, including France and Germany, to put off a decision until after the U.N. inspectors report on what happened in Syria have slowed the response time.

French President Francois Hollande told Le Monde newspaper Friday that intervention should be limited and not be directed toward al-Assad’s overthrow, a position also expressed by Obama.

On Friday, former President George W. Bush said Obama’s “got a tough choice to make.”

“I was not a fan of Mr. Assad. He’s an ally of Iran, he’s made mischief,” Bush told Fox News on Friday. “If he (Obama) decides to use the military, he’s got the greatest military in the world backing him up.”

Also Friday, another Obama predecessor, former President Jimmy Carter, said “a punitive military response without a U.N. Security Council mandate or broad support from NATO and the Arab League would be illegal under international law and unlikely to alter the course of the war.”

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has repeatedly said the United States will respond to Syria in concert with allies.

“Our approach is to continue to find an international coalition that will act together,” he told journalists Friday in Manila, Philippines.

Chemical weapons in Syria: How did we get here?

Public opinion

Skeptics of military action have pointed at the decision to use force in Iraq, when the United States government under Bush marched to war based on a thin claim that dictator Saddam Hussein was harboring weapons of mass destruction.

Opponents are conjuring up a possible repeat of that scenario in Syria, though the intelligence being gathered on the use of WMDs in Syria may be more sound.

An NBC News poll conducted Wednesday and Thursday indicated that 50% of the public says the United States should not take military action against Damascus in response to the Syrian government’s alleged use of chemical weapons against its own citizens, with 42% saying military action would be appropriate.

But the survey suggested that if military action would be confined to air strikes using cruise missiles, support rises.

Convincing evidence

Supporters of a strong U.S. response say that no further proof is needed that the Syrian regime was responsible.

“Come on. Does anybody really believe that those aren’t chemical weapons — those bodies of those children stacked up?” Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona said Thursday on CNN.

Read UK intelligence on chemical weapons

Democrats say Obama needs to make the case to Congress that al-Assad’s regime was responsible and that a possible intervention won’t get out of hand.

“The action has to have a very limited purpose, and the purpose is to deter future use of chemical weapons,” Democratic Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland told CNN.

More than 160 legislators, including 63 of Obama’s fellow Democrats, signed letters calling for either a vote or at least a “full debate” before any U.S. action.

The author of one of those letters, Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee of California, said Obama should seek “an affirmative decision of Congress” before committing American forces. Congress is in recess until September 9, though some members advocate returning early to debate the matter.

Map: U.S. and allied assets around Syria

Haunted by Iraq

Britain’s Joint Intelligence Committee has concluded it was “highly likely” that Syrian government forces used poison gas in the attack last week, according to a summary of the committee’s findings released Thursday. It said at least 350 people died.

Before military intervention got voted down, Prime Minister David Cameron had said his government would not act without first hearing from the U.N. inspectors and giving Parliament another chance to decide the matter. But his opposition seemed to be reminded of the Iraq war.

Opinion: For the U.S., Syria is a problem from hell

“I think today the House of Commons spoke for the British people who said they didn’t want a rush to war, and I was determined we learned the lessons of Iraq, and I’m glad we’ve made the prime minister see sense this evening,” Labour Party leader Ed Miliband told the Press Association.

Though Cameron did not need parliamentary approval to commit to an intervention, he felt it important “to act as a democrat, to act a different way to previous prime ministers and properly consult Parliament,” he said Friday.

UK Government’s legal position on Syrian regime’s chemical weapon use

He regrets not being able to build a consensus of lawmakers, he said.

U.N. deadlock

Lack of support for military intervention at the United Nations was less of a surprise, due to Russia’s known opposition.

“Russia is against any resolution of the U.N. Security Council, which may contain an option for use of force,” Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said Friday.

The U.N. weapons inspectors expected to be out of Syria by Saturday will brief Ban, who then will swiftly brief the Security Council on the findings.

Why Russia, Iran and China are standing by al-Assad

–CNN’s Barbara Starr, Lesa Jansen, Ben Brumfield, Elise Labott, Christine Theodorou, Holly Yan, Nick Paton Walsh, Jim Acosta, Max Foster and Bharati Naik contributed to this report. 

john kerry syria1

By Ken Dilanian, Los Angeles Times
WASHINGTON — The U.S. intelligence community believes that a chemical weapons attack ordered by the Syrian government Aug. 21 killed at least 1,429 people, including at least 426 children, an intelligence document says.

“The United States government assesses with high confidence that the Syrian government carried out a chemical weapons attack in the Damascus suburbs on Aug. 21,” the report issued Friday says. “We further assess that the regime used a nerve agent in the attack.”

The report is based on spies, intercepts and satellites, as well as video evidence the world has already seen, it says.

MORE: Read the U.S. intelligence assessment on Syria

“We intercepted communications involving a senior official intimately familiar with the offensive who confirmed that chemical weapons were used by the regime on Aug. 21 and was concerned with the U.N. inspectors obtaining evidence,” the report said.

It added, “We have intelligence that leads us to assess that Syrian chemical weapons personnel … were preparing chemical munitions prior to the attack.”

Secretary of State John F. Kerry called the attack “a crime against humanity.”

“Our intelligence community has carefully reviewed and re-reviewed information regarding this attack and I will tell you it is more than mindful of the Iraq experience,” Kerry added. “We will not repeat that moment.”


National & World News

Lawmakers still skeptical on Syria

WASHINGTON – White House officials convened a briefing on Syria for congressional leaders Thursday evening, as lawmakers from both parties continued to express skepticism about taking military action without congressional authorization.

Syrian soldier on patrol in Damascus

A Syrian soldier takes position during a patrol in a rural area of Damascus in an undated photo (Courtesy LA Times Via Syrian News Agency)

Top administration officials including National Security Advisor Susan Rice, Secretary of State John F. Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel led the nearly 90-minute conference call, an unclassified session that included intelligence on the alleged use of chemical weapons by Syrian President Bashar Assad‘s forces in rebel-held areas of his country.

The two dozen congressional leaders were sought out “to brief them on the administration’s thinking and seek their input,” the administration said in a statement.

For more on this LA Times story, click here.

By Henry Chu

Los Angeles Times

LONDON — A sharply divided British Parliament on Thursday rejected the immediate use of force as a response to suspected chemical attacks in Syria, putting Washington on notice that it would be deprived of the assistance of its most trusted ally if it launches a strike on Damascus in the next few days.


British Prime Minister David Cameron

Hours of impassioned debate in the House of Commons culminated in a 285-272 vote against a government motion to condemn the alleged use of poison gas against Syrian rebel strongholds and to uphold military reprisal as a legitimate option against the government of President Bashar Assad.

The surprise defeat for the government of Prime Minister David Cameron does not completely rule out the possibility of British involvement in eventually punishing Assad’s government militarily.

But analysts said it would be difficult, perhaps impossible, for Cameron to bring such a course of action to another vote in Parliament without satisfying skeptics’ demands of garnering United Nations backing for armed intervention — believed unlikely — or persuading lawmakers that all other avenues for trying to prevent chemical attacks in Syria had been exhausted.

“It is clear to me that the British Parliament, reflecting the views of the British people, does not want to see British military action. I get that, and the government will act accordingly,” a tense-looking Cameron said immediately after the vote.

British lawmakers, including some of Cameron’s fellow Conservatives, demanded restraint until U.N. weapons inspectors issue their findings from an investigation in Syria. There were similar calls from France and other European nations.

The hesitation on this side of the Atlantic means that, should President Obama decide to mount an armed strike on Damascus within the next few days, he will probably have to do so without the backing — or help — of some of Washington’s best friends.

The leader of Britain’s opposition Labor Party said Britain should be free to make its own decisions in its own time, without undue external pressure.

“There mustn’t be a rush to judgment” because of “an artificial timetable set elsewhere,” Labor leader Ed Miliband said, in a clear allusion to the U.S.

His party voted en bloc Thursday against Cameron’s motion for an endorsement, in principle, of a possible military intervention in Syria.

Even that request was watered down from the one Cameron had planned to introduce asking for immediate authorization of a strike on Damascus.

One of the most vocal advocates of a forceful response to Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons, Cameron has been brought up short in the last few days by warnings from lawmakers against acting without their blessing, which he technically does not need to launch military action.


syrian father reunited with son

WASHINGTON (CNN) — With a flurry of comments and activity, U.S. officials sought Tuesday to lay the groundwork for a military strike in Syria — though some in Washington are pushing back.

chuck hagel cropThe moves by top members of President Barack Obama’s administration come less than a week after rebels claim more than 1,300 people were killed in a Syrian government, most of them dying from use of chemical weapons.

The White House offered legal justification for a strike, with spokesman Jay Carney telling reporters the large-scale use of chemical weapons in Syria presented a national security threat to the United States that required a response.

Carney said Obama had yet to make a final decision on how to respond to what U.S. officials characterize as the worst chemical weapons attack since former Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein launched a poison gas attack that killed thousands of Kurds in 1988.

The president continues to review options, Carney said, adding “nothing has been decided.” Carney assured reporters some sort of response will come.

“Allowing the use of chemical weapons on a significant scale to take place without a response would present a significant challenge to or threat to the United States’ national security,” he said.

Vice President Joe Biden made clear the administration’s view of who was to blame, telling the American Legion that “there is no doubt who is responsible for the heinous use of chemical weapons — the Syrian regime.”

On the same day Obama talked with Stephen Harper and UK Prime MInister David Cameron, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Secretary of State John Kerry consulted allies and indicated potentially imminent action by a coalition likely to include key NATO partners and regional powers.

The United States has already moved warships armed with cruise missiles into the region. Hagel told the BBC on Tuesday that forces were ready to carry out a strike if ordered. A senior Defense Department official told CNN that any strike could be completed “within several days.”

“We are ready to go, like that,” Hagel told the BBC, adding that “the options are there, the United States Department of Defense is ready to carry out those options.”

Options available to Obama range from ordering limited missile strikes to continued diplomatic efforts labeled by critics as a “do-nothing” approach.

The White House has ruled out sending ground troops to Syria or implementing a no-fly zone to blunt al-Assad’s aerial superiority over rebels fighting to oust his regime.

On Monday, Carney said that the first step toward a military response in Syria would be the public release of a U.S. intelligence report on the August 21 event near Damascus that reportedly killed and wounded thousands.

A U.S. official who was not authorized to speak on the record told CNN that release of the intelligence report was planned for Tuesday, but Carney later said it would come out some time this week.

Another official told CNN the intelligence report would include forensic evidence and intercepted communications among Syrian military commanders.

Carney said Tuesday there was “no doubt” in the administration that chemical weapons were used by the al-Assad government, telling reporters that “we see no evidence of any alternative scenario.”

For almost two years, Obama has avoided direct military involvement in Syria’s civil war, only escalating aid to rebel fighters in June after suspected smaller-scale chemical weapons attacks by Syrian government forces.

However, last week’s attack obliterated the “red line” Obama set just over a year ago against the use of Syria’s chemical weapons stocks.

Yet some in Congress say that before Obama orders any strike, they should go through them first.

A group of 31 Republican and six Democratic lawmakers on Tuesday sent a letter to the president urging him “to consult and receive authorization” before authorizing any such military action.

“Any U.S. military action could bring serious consequences or further escalation,” said Rep. Ed Royce, a California Republican who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee and was not among the letter’s initial signatories. “The president should be making the case to the American public, and his administration should come to Congress to explain their plans.

“The consequences are too great for Congress to be pushed aside.”

Rep. Peter King, a New York Republican and influential member of the House Homeland Security Committee, said the U.S. response to the Syria situation will influence another regional proliferation issue — Iran’s potential development of nuclear weapons.

Obama “time and again has basically said that Iran will not be allowed to have nuclear weapons, that’s the red line,” King told CNN on Monday, adding that failure to enforce a similar threat against Syria on chemical weapons would undermine the president.

“This is as much a warning to Iran as I see it, as it is action against Syria,” King said.

Even some in Obama’s own party are cautioning against action that’s not suitably inclusive. Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island told CNN on Monday the United States should only act in concert with an international coalition from at least NATO allies and Arab League members.

“Without their participation, it looks as if this is just a Western-vs.-Islamic struggle. It’s not,” said Reed, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “This is to vindicate a basic rule of international law that these weapons will not be used, not by Iran, not by any power.”

Reed said the most realistic option would be cruise missiles launched from Navy ships at sea, noting that “we can have precision weapons that could be fired and keep our aircraft out of Syrian airspace and away from their anti-aircraft systems.”