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Hagel, NATO Ministers Talk Syria Chemical Weapons

Chuck Hagel, the Defense Secretary nominee

Brussels – New reports that the French confirmed the use of sarin gas in Syria triggered discussions here on the sidelines of the meeting of NATO defense ministers, but the alliance is still refusing to make any contingency plans for operations in the embattled country. Unwilling to get drawn collectively in to a protracted civil war, NATO nations instead are making individual decisions on how best to aid the rebels trying to overthrow President Bashar Assad’s regime.

But while France’s announcement about the proof of chemical weapons use has not been a major focus of the discussions, it has been raised in during meetings between the ministers, according to a U.S. official.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel met with the French and British and Canadian ministers Tuesday evening and the issue came up during that session, according to a U.S. official. The official, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the meeting so requested anonymity, said that the ministers agreed to continue to monitor the situation, but did not decide on any specific actions.

Hagel said during a news conference Wednesday that he has not seen the evidence other than a reference the French minister made about it during their meeting. He said the French did not request any specific actions by the U.S. in regard to Syria. Hagel also said that NATO’s role continues to be to help protect alliance members such as Turkey, “but beyond that we didn’t get into any additional war plans regarding Syria.”

NATO officials have said that while they are concerned about the deteriorating situation in Syria, there is virtually no chance the alliance will become involved. “We have been told not to plan at this point,” U.S. Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, the top NATO commander, told reporters at the start of the two-day meeting. He added that NATO has already acted to defend Turkey by placing three Patriot missile batteries.

“In making sure we are well positioned to execute the defense of an ally we have done that, but beyond that we will not plan,” Breedlove said, until he gets a formal directive from NATO’s governing both, the North Atlantic Council. (AP)

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