U.S. says intelligence signals no new Syria steps on chemical weapons

KUWAIT Tue Dec 11, 2012 6:42pm IST

U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta speaks to the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction symposium at the National Defense University in Washington, December 3, 2012. REUTERS/Larry Downing

U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta speaks to the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction symposium at the National Defense University in Washington, December 3, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Larry Downing

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KUWAIT (Reuters) - United States intelligence agencies have detected no new moves by the Syrian government in recent days that would indicate it was preparing to use chemical weapons against rebel forces, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said on Tuesday.

Several Western countries issued coordinated warnings last week to President Bashar al-Assad not to deploy chemical weapons, many citing secret intelligence that U.S. officials have said his government might be preparing to use poison gas.

Syria has rejected the warnings as "a pretext for intervention" by outsiders.

"At this point, the intelligence has really kind of leveled off. We haven't seen anything new indicating any aggressive steps to move forward in that way," Panetta said, speaking to reporters before arriving on a visit to Kuwait.

Panetta was outspoken about his concerns last week that Assad's government was considering using chemical weapons as rebels intensified their push, particularly on Damascus.

He said on Tuesday he still held those concerns.

"I'd like to believe he's got the message. We've made it pretty clear and others have as well," he said.

"But it's also clear that the opposition continues to make gains in Syria and our concern is that if they feel like the regime is threatened with collapse that they might resort to these kinds of weapons," he said.

U.S. President Barack Obama has warned of consequences should Assad use the weapons. Panetta said the United States was monitoring the situation very closely.

Panetta said his visit to Kuwait was mainly to visit the more than 13,500 U.S. troops in the country before the Christmas holiday. He also planned to meet Kuwaiti leaders.

(Editing by Angus MacSwan; phillip.stewart@thomsonreuters.com)(+1 202 354 5827)(Reuters Messaging: phillip.stewart.reuters.com@reuters.net)

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