The United States is rethinking its opposition to arming the Syrian rebels, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said on Thursday, as pressure builds for a U.S. response to Syria's suspected use of chemical weapons in its civil war.
Hagel stressed that no decision by U.S. President Barack Obama had been made and did not signal whether one was likely soon on arming opposition fighters trying to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
U.S. military commanders have voiced concerns that weapons could fall into the hands anti-American Islamic extremists and that arming opposition groups may do little to end the conflict.
"You look at and rethink all options. It doesn't mean you do or you will" choose them, Hagel said.
"These are options that must be considered with partners, with the international community: what is possible, what can help accomplish (our) objectives," he added.
Still, Hagel's public admission at a Pentagon news conference, standing alongside his British counterpart, was the clearest signal yet that Obama is moving toward some action after citing preliminary U.S. intelligence that Assad's forces likely used chemical weapons, specifically sarin gas.
British Defense Secretary Philip Hammond noted that his government was constrained by a European Union ban on supplying armaments to the rebels.
"Both of our nations will only do what we legally can do," Hammond said, adding his government would "look at the situation when that ban expires in a few weeks' time."
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