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WASHINGTON (AFP) – The U.S. military will maintain the threat of force against Syria in case the regime fails to abide by an agreement to relinquish control of its chemical weapons, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Wednesday.

“We should keep that military option exactly where it is. We have assured the president that our assets and force posture remain the same. We are prepared to exercise any option that he would select,” Hagel told a press conference.

“We are prepared to exercise any option that he would select.”

Hagel’s comments made clear the United States had no plans to withdraw destroyers in the eastern Mediterranean, which had been prepared to launch cruise missile attacks to punish Damascus over its alleged use of chemical weapons.

He said it was clear “the credible threat of U.S. force” helped to persuade Syria to agree to a U.S.-Russia accord that calls for the regime to turn over its chemical arsenal to international control.

U.S. defense officials told AFP four destroyers equipped with Tomahawk cruise missiles remained in place in the eastern Mediterranean, ready to launch a possible attack if diplomacy fails.

Hagel and General Martin Dempsey, the military’s top-ranking officer, also said the administration was still considering whether to have the Pentagon take over the arming of Syria’s rebels from the Central Intelligence Agency, which would involve larger scale assistance.

Despite agreeing to the deal on securing Syria’s chemical weapons, Washington and Moscow remain at odds over who carried out the August 21 chemical attack outside Damascus.

Russia says the Syrian regime has handed over new evidence implicating rebel forces in the deadly incident.

But U.S. President Barack Obama has said it was “inconceivable” that anyone other than the Syrian regime could have carried out the attack.

AFP Photo/Chip Somodevilla


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