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Talk Of Strike On Syria Moves From 'Will It Happen?' To When

Ammunition was stacked up Saturday in an area near Damascus that is controlled by forces loyal to President Bashar Assad.
Khaled al-Hariri
Reuters /Landov
Ammunition was stacked up Saturday in an area near Damascus that is controlled by forces loyal to President Bashar Assad.

With U.S. officials saying there's little doubt that President Bashar Assad's regime used chemical weapons on the Syrian people last week, and with U.S. Navy ships moving toward that country's coast, it now seems to be a question of "when" not "whether" America will strike military targets inside that nation.

On 'Morning Edition': Aaron David Miller speaks with Renee Montagne about the situation in Syria
On 'Morning Edition': NPR's Larry Abramson talks with David Greene about the military options

That was the analysis Monday on Morning Edition from Aaron David Miller, a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center, a Washington, D.C.-based research center.

What would be the goal of a strike in coming days — most likely cruise missiles fired at "command and control" centers of the Syrian military?

"I suspect it will not be an effort to fundamentally change the battlefield balance," Miller told Morning Edition host Renee Montagne. "In effect, it will try to be a strike that looks to alter Assad's behavior, not the regime itself."

One reason the U.S. and its allies might not try to topple Assad with any missile strikes is that the forces fighting his regime include militant Islamists who swear allegiance to terrorist groups such as al-Qaida.

Also on Morning Edition, NPR's Larry Abramson reported from Indonesia, where he and other reporters are traveling with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. President Obama, Larry said, is now weighing the intelligence about last week's attack in Syria and the issue appears to be "how to respond, not whether to respond."

Meanwhile, there was word Monday from Damascus that snipers fired at a vehicle in the convoy that was taking U.N. chemical weapons inspectors to the scene of last week's alleged chemical attack. They had the Assad regime's permission to examine the site. It's not known who fired the shots, which disabled the car. According to a statement from the U.N., no one was injured and "the team will return to the area after replacing the vehicle."

As you might expect, the situation is dominating news outlets' headlines today:

-- "Confident Syria Used Chemicals, U.S. Mulls Action." (The New York Times)

-- "U.S. Talks Tough On Syria, Ramps Up Attack Planning." (The Wall Street Journal)

-- "Syria's Assad Reportedly Denies Use Of Chemical Weapons." (Los Angeles Times)

-- "Russia Warns U.S. Of Repercussions From Syria Action." (Bloomberg News)

-- "U.N. Team Visiting 'Chemical Attack' Site." (BBC News)

Update at 6:59 p.m. ET. Communication With Congress:

House Speaker John Boehner spoke to President Obama today, according to his spokesman Brendan Buck.

"The Speaker made clear that before any action is taken there must be meaningful consultation with members of Congress, as well as clearly defined objectives and a broader strategy to achieve stability," Buck said.

Update at 4:40 p.m. ET. Where Does Russia Stand:

One of the big questions looming over any military action is, where does Russia stand.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, along with China, has been a staunch supporter of Bashar Assad. It looks like Russia has not changed its mind.

The BBC reports that British Prime Minister David Cameron spoke to Putin who told him "they had no evidence that an attack had taken place or who was responsible."

Update at 3:01 p.m. ET. 'A Moral Obscenity':

In a strongly-worded statement, Secretary of State John Kerry said what is happening in Syria is "a moral obscenity" and the Obama administration was in contact with Congress and the international community, discussing how to respond.

"The president will be making an informed decision," Kerry said.

The Secretary of State said that after consulting with his peers around the world, he watched the videos out of Syria that were posted on social media.

"This is human suffering that we can never ignore or forget," Kerry said. He added, "Our sense of basic humanity is offended."

Kerry also said that the Obama administration was "all but certain" that it was the Assad regime that used the chemical weapons.

Update at 11:40 a.m. ET. U.N. Secretary-General Says Inspectors Returned To Scene:

"I just spoke to my Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament, Ms. Angela Kane, who is now in Damascus to oversee the investigation," U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says in a statement emailed to reporters by his staff just minutes ago.

"The first day of investigation was carried out by Dr. Sellstrom and his team," Ban continues. "What I am told at this time is that their vehicle was attacked by an unknown sniper, but despite such very difficult circumstances, our team returned to Damascus and replaced their car and proceeded to a suburb of Damascus to carry on their investigation. They visited two hospitals, they interviewed witnesses, survivors and doctors, they also collected some samples. They are now returning to Damascus.

"I will have to wait a little bit more to get the first view of Dr. Sellstrom, but in the meantime I have instructed Angela Kane to register a strong complaint to the Syrian Government and authorities of opposition forces so that this will never happen and the safety and security of the investigation teams will be secured from tomorrow. And I am awaiting a fuller report."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.
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