The US military is ready to act immediately should President Barack Obama order action against Syria over a chemical weapons attack, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in a television interview with the BBC on Tuesday.
"We have moved assets in place to be able to fulfill and comply with whatever option the president wishes to take," Hagel said during a trip to Brunei, according to a partial transcript provided by the BBC.
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Asked if the US military was ready to respond just "like that," Hagel said: "We are ready to go, like that."
Hagel's comments came a day after US Secretary of State John Kerry laid the groundwork for possible military action against the Syrian government by saying Obama believed there needed to be "accountability" for the use of chemical weapons.
Hagel said the United States would have intelligence to present "very shortly" about the attack. But noted after calls with his British and French counterparts that there was little doubt among most US allies that "the most base ... international humanitarian standard was violated."
Meanwhile, sources who attended a meeting between envoys and the Syrian National Coalition in Istanbul said Western powers told the Syrian opposition to expect a strike against President Bashar Assad's forces within days.
"The opposition was told in clear terms that action to deter further use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime could come as early as in the next few days, and that they should still prepare for peace talks at Geneva," one of the sources who was at the meeting on Monday told Reuters.
The meeting at a hotel in downtown Istanbul was between senior figures of the Syrian National Coalition, including its president Ahmad Jarba, and envoys from 11 core "Friends of Syria" alliance members, that included US envoy Robert Ford, the top US official handling the Syria file, the sources said.
Facing Russian and Chinese disapproval that could dampen prospects for proposed peace talks in Geneva, Assad's foes have vowed to punish a poison gas attack in some rebel-held districts of Damascus on Aug. 21 that killed hundreds.
UN experts trying to establish what exactly happened in the attack were finally able to cross the frontline on Monday to see survivors - despite being shot at in government-held territory. But they put off a second visit until Wednesday.
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