"Russia will not intervene if Syria is attacked," a source in Moscow told the Interfax news agency Wednesday evening.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Britain on Wednesday that the UN Security Council should not consider a draft resolution in response to an alleged chemical arms attack in Syria before UN inspectors report on their findings there.
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Lavrov told British Foreign Secretary William Hague, whose country has proposed a resolution that would authorise measures to protect civilians, it is necessary "to wait for the results" from the UN inspectors, the Russian Foreign Ministry said.
Meanwhile, a senior American official told Reuters strikes could last several days and would involve other armed forces: "We're talking to a number of different allies regarding participation in a possible kinetic strike," the administration official said on Wednesday.
Western armies are expected to wait until the UN experts withdraw. Their initial 14-day mandate expires in four days, and Secretary-General Ban said they need four days work.
A second US official said objectives were still being defined but that the targets could be chosen to prevent Assad from using chemical weapons in future. Washington was confident it could handle Syrian defenses and any possible reprisals by its allies, including Iran and Lebanese militia Hezbollah.
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The Wall Street Journal reported that Obama administration officials believe that they must respond quickly to the Syrian government's alleged use of chemical weapons, or else the regime will deploy them again in Syria's largest city, now a key stronghold of the opposition.
"Aleppo would probably be one of the likely targets," a senior administration official was quoted as saying by the newspaper.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the military strikes being considered by the administration are primarily aimed at deterring further use of chemical weapons by Syria as well as by other nations that retain substantial stocks of such weapons, such as North Korea.
"What does it say to the world if a government can get away with using the most heinous weapon, chemical weapons, on its own people?" the official said.
Senior defense officials were quoted by the Wall Street Journal as saying that Pentagon officials have firmed up plans for military strikes against Syria that would likely use cruise-missile strikes to "deter and degrade" President Bashar Assad's security forces without dramatically altering the country's balance of power.
According to the report, the plans, which await a sign-off from President Barack Obama, could rely on four US destroyers in the Mediterranean, each armed with dozens of advanced Tomahawk cruise missiles that can be fired at Syrian military and intelligence compounds, front-line artillery batteries and other regime targets.
Not on the list of targets are chemical-weapons supplies, given the potential for widespread collateral damage, the defense officials said.
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