The US State Department said on Friday it had evacuated non-emergency personnel and family members from its embassy in the Lebanese capital Beirut, as Congress debates a military strike on neighboring Syria.
"The Department of State drew down non-emergency personnel and family members from Embassy Beirut due to threats to US Mission facilities and personnel," a statement on the Beirut embassy's website said.
- Russia sends warship with 'special cargo' toward Syria
- Report: US expanding Syrian attack plans
- US gives up on UNSC in Syria crisis
The US State Department urges "US citizens to avoid all travel to Lebanon because of current safety and security concerns," the statement also said.
The State Department also moved to reduce its diplomatic presence at its consulate general in Adana, Turkey, due to security threats, it said Friday in a statement.
"The Consulate General in Adana has been authorized to draw down its non-emergency staff and family members because of threats against US government facilities and personnel," the department said.
It also recommended "that US citizens defer non-essential travel to southeastern Turkey," the statement said.
"Given the current tensions the region, as well as potential threats to US government facilities and personnel, we are taking these steps out of an abundance of caution to protect our employees and their families, and local employees and visitors to our facilities," said State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf.
President Barack Obama on Friday declined to speculate whether he would go ahead with a military strike in Syria if Congress votes against authorizing it, saying he would try to convince Americans and lawmakers of the need to act against the government of President Bashar Assad.
"I put it before Congress because I could not honestly claim that the threat posed by Assad's use of chemical weapons on innocent civilians and women and children posed an imminent, direct threat to the United States," Obama said in a news conference at the G20 summit in St. Petersburg.
"It's conceivable at the end of the day I don't persuade a majority of the American people that it's the right thing to do," Obama acknowledged. "And then each member of Congress is going to have to decide."
If there had been a direct threat to the United States or allies, Obama said he would have taken action without consulting Congress.
He said he couldn't honestly claim there was an imminent threat to the United States from the chemical weapons use in Syria. But he argued action was essential to uphold prohibitions against the use of weapons of mass destruction.
The US president added: "Given Security Council paralysis on this issue, if we are serious about upholding a ban on chemical weapons use then an international response is required, and that will not come through Security Council action.
Seeking to rally support back in Washington, the administration planned another classified briefing for all lawmakers next Monday night after Congress returns, and White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough planned to attend the closed-door Democratic caucus meeting Tuesday morning, according to a congressional aide.
Although surveys showed a significant number of House Republicans and Democrats opposed to military action or leaning against it, officials in the leadership insisted it was premature to say the resolution could not be approved. At this stage, just a third of the House and Senate have participated in classified briefings and Obama is still reaching out to lawmakers.
Ten members of the Group of 20 international economies joined the United States in accusing the Syrian government of carrying a chemical weapons attack on civilians last month and called for a strong international response against the Assad's regime.
A joint statement by the ten countries and the United States stopped short of explicitly calling for military action against the Syrian government, as President Obama is advocating, but the tough language aligned half of the G20 members with Obama, who worked the sidelines of the summit to build international support for a limited US military response.
The countries are Australia, Canada, France, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Turkey and the United Kingdom.
Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin held an unannounced meeting, which both said was “constructive.” The US president said he and his Russian counterpart agreed the underlying conflict in Syria could only be resolved through a political transition. Obama also said he thinks it is important that he and Putin work together to urge all sides in the conflict to try to resolve it.
Russia on Friday warned the United States and its allies against striking any chemical weapon storage facilities in Syria. The Russian foreign ministry said such targeting could release toxic chemicals and give militants or terrorist access to chemical weapons.
"This is a step toward proliferation of chemical weapons not only across the Syrian territory but beyond its borders," the Russian statement said.
Meanwhile, the Kremlin said Russia was boosting its naval presence in the Mediterranean Sea, moving in warships into the area and stoking fears about a larger international conflict if the United States orders airstrikes.
It was reported that Russia is sending its large landing ship Nikolai Filchenkov towards the Syrian coast, state news agency Interfax quoted a navy source as saying.
"The vessel will dock in Novorossiysk where it will take special cargo on board and head to the designated area of military service in the eastern Mediterranean," Interfax quoted the unnamed navy source as saying.
It gave no more details on the cargo. Russia, a key international ally of Damascus in the Syrian civil war, is rotating its navy vessels in the Mediterranean and says its presence there is a security guarantee.
AP contributed to this report
- Receive Ynetnews updates
directly to your desktop