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No new steps by Syria on chemical weapons: U.S.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta (R) and Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki (L) speak to members of the media during a joint news conference December 6, 2012 in Washington, DC. Alex Wong/Getty Images/AFP

KUWAIT CITY: Syria has not taken any new steps in recent days that signal a readiness to use its chemical weapons arsenal, US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said Tuesday, citing intelligence reports.

"At this point the intelligence has really kind of levelled off. We haven't seen anything new indicating any aggressive steps to move forward in that way," Panetta told reporters aboard his plane before landing in Kuwait.

"But we continue to monitor it very closely and we continue to make clear to them that they should not under any means make use of these chemical weapons against their own population.

"That would produce serious consequences."

The Pentagon chief said last week that the United States had intelligence that showed Syria was considering employing its chemical weapons.

Some US officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the regime had mixed precursor chemicals to create a lethal nerve agent and had loaded it into aerial bombs.

After a series of stern warnings from Washington and other Western capitals, Panetta said he hoped Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had gotten "the message".

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

But he said the US government remained concerned that as opposition forces make gains, the Assad regime could resort to its chemical stockpiles as a last-ditch move to hold on to power.

 

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