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US focused on Syria's chemical arms after Assad: Panetta

Published on Jan 11, 2013 6:38 AM
 
US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta in a news briefing at the Pentagon on Jan 10, 2013 in Arlington, Virginia. The United States (US) is increasingly focused on how to secure Syria's chemical weapons if President Bashar al-Assad falls from power but is not considering sending ground troops into the war-torn country, said Mr Panetta.. -- PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The United States (US) is increasingly focused on how to secure Syria's chemical weapons if President Bashar al-Assad falls from power but is not considering sending ground troops into the war-torn country, Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said on Thursday.

While the US government has issued stern warnings to Damascus against resorting to such arms in its war with rebel forces, Mr Panetta said that a more likely scenario might be a chaotic vacuum if Mr Assad is toppled, with uncertainty over who controls the lethal weapons.

"I think the greater concern right now is what steps does the international community take to make sure that when Assad comes down, that there is a process and procedure to make sure we get our hands on securing those sites," Mr Panetta told a news conference. "That I think is the greater challenge right now."

The US government was discussing the issue with Israel and other countries in the region, he said, but ruled out deploying American ground forces in a "hostile" setting.

 
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