The United States is repositioning naval forces in the Mediterranean to give President Barack Obama the option for an armed strike on Syria, US officials have said.
President Obama met with advisors on Saturday to discuss reports that the Syrian government used chemical weapons in an attack on a Damascus suburb, a White House official said.
“We have a range of options available, and we are going to act very deliberately so that we’re making decisions consistent with our national interest as well as our assessment of what can advance our objectives in Syria,” the official said.
Although officials cautioned that President Obama had made no decision on military action, a defence official said the US Navy would expand its presence in the Mediterranean.
US Secretary of Defence Chuck Hagel said President Obama had asked the Pentagon for options on Syria, where an apparent chemical weapons attack that killed as many as 1,000 civilians has upped pressure on Washington to respond.
“The Defence Department has responsibility to provide the president with options for all contingencies,” Hagel said.
“And that requires positioning our forces, positioning our assets, to be able to carry out different options – whatever options the president might choose.” He did not elaborate.
The defence official said the USS Mahan, a warship armed with cruise missiles, had finished its deployment and was due to head back to its home base in Norfolk, Virginia.
But the commander of the US Sixth Fleet has decided to keep the ship in the region, a defence official said.
The official stressed the navy had received no orders to prepare for any military operations regarding Syria.
Read more: Syria chemical attack: the video evidence
President Obama’s senior national security advisers will convene at the White House this weekend to discuss all options, including possible military action, against the Syrian government, another US official said on Friday.
A senior State Department official said no final decisions were expected from the meeting, pending a further review of intelligence on the attack.
The security sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the assessment was preliminary and, at this stage, they were still seeking conclusive proof, which could take days, weeks or even longer to gather.
Meanwhile UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Angela Kane arrived in Syria on Saturday to push for access to a suspected chemical weapons attack site for UN inspectors, who are already in Syria to investigate previous accusations.
Kane arrived at the Four Seasons hotel in Damascus, a Reuters reporter at the scene said.