US talks of risk of Syria intervention

US talks of risk of Syria intervention

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta pushed back yesterday against fresh demands for U.S. military involvement in Syria to end President Bashar al-Assad’s deadly crackdown on his people, while Syria vowed to cooperate with U.N.

“What doesn’t make sense is to take unilateral action right now,” Panetta told the Senate Armed Services Committee about advising President Barack Obama to dispatch U.S. forces. “I’ve got to make very sure we know what the mission is ... achieving that mission at what price.”

No-fly zone among options in Syria

Testifying before the committee, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey said among the military options are enforcement of a no-fly zone and humanitarian relief. He said a long-term, sustained air campaign would pose a challenge because Syria’s air defenses are five times more sophisticated than Libya’s. He said Syria’s chemical and biological weapons stockpile is 100 times larger than Libya’s.

Also, President Barack Obama said on March 6 it was only a matter of time before al-Assad left office, but added it was a mistake to think the U.S. could take unilateral action there. In the meantime, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem told the visiting U.N. humanitarian chief yesterday that his government is ready to cooperate with her team which is seeking access to battered protest cities.

 In his meeting with Valerie Amos, Muallem “underlined Syria’s commitment to cooperate with the delegation within the framework of the respect, sovereignty and independence of Syria and in coordination with the foreign ministry,” the state SANA news agency reported. Also yesterday, a Chinese envoy sent to discuss ways to end the bloodshed in Syria was to discuss a six-point peace plan with Muallem and opposition figures.

Russia urged its ally Damascus and the rebels to “immediately” halt violence and assist the arrival of Amos’s mission.

On the ground, tanks and troop carriers were headed for the embattled province of Idlib in northwest Syria on Wednesday, said the Syrian National Council, the main opposition alliance. It also said “several people were killed” in bombardment of Maaret al-Numan, another town in Idlib province. The Syrian army has intensified its attacks on insurgency strongholds, particularly in Idlib, since it retook Baba Amr. On Tuesday, at least 16 people were killed.