Report: US expanding Syrian attack plans, Iran threatens covert retaliation
ABC reports US attack on Syria to last 48-hours, to include stealth bombers. WSJ reports US intercepted Iranian message to Iraqi terrorists calling on them to attack US facilities in case of attack. Meanwhile, Kerry attempts to revive international peace conference
The possible US led air campaign could be two-days long and include long-range B-2 and B-52 stealth bombers which would takeoff from the US and fire guided missiles from beyond the range of Syria anti-air defense systems, Jonathan Karl of ABC News, who is traveling with President Barack Obama to Russia, reported.
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If indeed the heavy bombers will be involved in the attack, one of their potential targets will be rockets used for chemical attacks as well as those capable of reaching Israel, ABC reported, in addition to some 200 tomahawk missiles which will be fired from US destroyers in the Mediterranean.
According to the report, an official told the ABC journalist that the attack would cause Syrian President Bashar Assad more damage in two days than the rebels have caused in two years.
B-52 (Photo: Reuters)
In a possible reaction to news of the widening attack plan, The Wall Street Journal reported the US has intercepted an Iranian order aimed at Iraqi militants which instructed them to attack US facilities, including its embassy in Baghdad in the event of a Syrian strike, the paper quoted an official as saying.
According to military officials, other possible retaliation threats could be from Iran's fleet of fast boats in the Persian Gulf – which threaten gulf-based US battle ships – as well as an attack on the US Embassy in Beirut by Hezbollah.
US Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday phoned his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov seeking to give fresh impetus to plans to hold peace talks on Syria, officials said.
After two days of major hearings in the Congress where he pleaded for backing to launch punitive US military strikes against Syria, Kerry returned his focus to the dormant political track, dubbed Geneva II.
During a May visit to Moscow, Kerry and Lavrov hatched proposals to bring the Syrian opposition and the government of President Bashar Assad to the table to negotiate a transition of power.
The talks were aimed at building on a ceasefire deal reached in Geneva in June 2012, which has so far failed to be implemented.
Initially due to be held by the end of May, the second round of proposed talks have been repeatedly postponed and have never materialized amid deep divisions among the Syrian opposition and a dispute over exactly which nations should be invited to participate.
The diplomatic track has also languished amid deteriorating ties between Moscow and Washington.
But US officials say they have remained focused on convening the talks despite President Barack Obama's plan for limited strikes on Syrian targets following last month's suspected chemical weapons attack by the Assad regime.
"It's important to note that even though we're focused here and the secretary's focused every day on working with Congress and working on building our international coalition for this specific targeted action, that we still continue to believe that there's no military solution," State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said.
"We do remain focused on Geneva and using that as a venue for a negotiated political settlement."
She said the United States was "still working through the details" and that it had been among issues discussed by Kerry in a Thursday morning call with Lavrov.
The Obama administration is seeking approval from Congress for military strikes to decimate the Syrian regime's chemical weapons capability.
Whether such action would force Assad to the negotiating table was uncertain, Psaki acknowledged, but stressing that the United States would like the talks to happen as soon as possible.
"I just don't want to predict what's going to bring every side to the table, but that's part of, of course, the ongoing discussion," she told reporters.
It is likely significant however that the UN-Arab League envoy for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, was in Saint Petersburg, Russia, on Thursday to attend a G20 summit.
And Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem, who recently spoke with Kerry, was to travel to Russia on Monday to discuss the crisis.
Russia has been a key ally of Syria throughout the war now in its third year and has been working to get the regime to sit down with the opposition.
For its part the United States has sought to build a cohesive opposition which would have the authority to negotiate for the fractured rebels seeking to oust Assad
AFP contributed to this report
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