US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Tuesday backed off of last week’s bluster about the Syrian regime’s preparations for the possible use of chemical weapons, saying they have slowed those preparations.
Starting last week, Washington began warning about the possibility that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad might use his chemical weapons stockpiles against the armed rebellion trying to overthrow his regime, a scenario the Obama administration used to outline the chances of military action.
But Panetta on Tuesday suggested the threat was no longer escalating, in a sign they wanted to calm the waters or perhaps operate more in the covert world.
“At this point the intelligence has really kind of leveled off,” he said. “We haven’t seen anything new indicating any aggressive steps to move forward in that way.”
Panetta said, “I like to believe he’s got the message,” suggesting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was heeding Western warnings about chemical weapons. “We’ve made it pretty clear. Others have as well.”
But the Assad regime said all along they would never use chemical weapons.
“Syria stresses again, for the tenth, the hundredth time, that if we had such weapons, they would not be used against its people. We would not commit suicide,” Assad’s deputy foreign minister said on Thursday, adding that the West was whipping up fears as a “pretext for intervention.”