TOP ADMINISTRATION OFFICIALS ON CAPITOL HILL MAKING CASE FOR ATTACK ON SYRIA

Top Obama administration officials face tough questions Tuesday as they make their case for a military strike in Syria in their first public congressional hearing on the issue.

Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey sit before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Tuesday afternoon. Read more here.

 

HAGEL CONTINUES CONSULTATIONS ON SYRIA

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel spoke by phone with German Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere to discuss the ongoing violence in Syria, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said.

Hagel is in Brunei, where he is attending a meeting of Association of Southeast Asian Nations defense ministers.

In a statement summarizing the call, Little said Hagel pledged to continue consultations with de Maiziere on the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

“They discussed the need for the international community to consider responses to this tragic development in Syria,” the press secretary said, “and noted that the use of chemical weapons violates core tenets of international law.”

In an interview yesterday with “BBC World News,” Hagel said most U.S. allies, most U.S. partners and most of the international community have little doubt that the most basic international humanitarian standard was violated by the Syrian regime in using chemical weapons against its own people.

“The deeper we get into this, it seems to me it’s clearer and clearer that the government of Syria was responsible,” he added.

The secretary also said the Defense Department has complied with President Barack Obama’s request for options.

“We have moved assets in place to be able to fulfill and comply with whatever option the president wishes to take,” he said. “We are ready to go.”

 

HAGEL CONFERS WITH BRITISH, FRENCH COUNTERPARTS ON SYRIA

The Pentagon says Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel spoke today with Britian and France’s defense ministers to drum up an international response to the chemical attacks in Syria.

The Defense Department says Hagel told them the United States military is prepared for any contingency involving Syria and pledged what it is calling “close coordination” with the British and French defense forces.

 

HAGEL: SYRIA USED CHEMICAL WEAPONS

By TALK RADIO NEWS SERVICE

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said today that United States military intelligence has uncovered “to some degree of varying confidence” that chemical weapons have been used by forces loyal to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.

The claim, made during a visit to Abu Dhabi Thursday, may mark a new phase in the two-year conflict that has claimed the lives of over 60,000. The Obama administration has previously stated that the use of chemical weapons in Syria would mark a “red line” for the United States, and for wider international involvement.

Hagel’s claim today would seem to verify the findings of a senior Israeli armed forces intelligence made on Tuesday, when Brigadier-General Itai Brun said, “Our assessment is that the [Assad] regime has used and is using chemical weapons.”

Great Britain and France have made similar claims, and the countries are believed to be involved in supplying intelligence to the U.N. investigation.

In the wake of Hagel’s comments, Reuters has since reported that the White House maintains that “credible and corroborated facts” are needed before any final judgement can be made about actions within Syria.

Judging by the progress of the UN fact-finding mission created to make just such a scientific determination, it may be some time before the White House can establish that degree of certainty.

Blocked by the Syrian government from entering the country as details about the “modality and the scope of the mission” are debated, U.N. investigators intended to be deployed inside Syria have been halted near the border. While awaiting permission to operate, the investigators are reported to have begun analyzing intelligence gathered by unnamed member states, purported to include hair and ground samples that could reveal the presence of sarin gas.

Limited in its mandate, however, the UN mission will not attempt to identify which Syrian faction was responsibly for firing any potential chemical ordinances.

 

ISRAEL TRIP OVER, HAGEL NOW IN EGYPT

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel arrived in Egypt Wednesday for talks with top Egyptian officials, including President Morsi and top military officials.

On his first trip to the Middle East as Pentagon leader, visiting Egypt is seen as the administration’s way of continuing military talks with the newly established post-Mubarak government.

Hagel began his Middle East tour landing in Israel and spending two days with Defense Minister Moshe Yallon. Both men have recently began their positions as military leaders. Hagel’s stop in Israel is an important gesture by the U.S. government as Hagel faced a grueling confirmation hearing after making comments regarding the influence of the “Jewish lobby” on Capitol Hill.

Hagel has already visited Jordan and will follow with stops in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. He is expected to return at the end of the week.