|Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta poses for photos with the U.S. Naval Academy Midshipmen cheerleaders and band during a pep rally held in the halls of the Pentagon, Dec. 6, 2012. DOD photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley|
FROM: U.S. DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE
Panetta Discusses Syria Situation, Sequestration
By Terri Moon Cronk
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 6, 2012 - Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta today repeated the U.S. government's growing concern that Syrian forces loyal to President Bashar Assad may be preparing to use chemical weapons on their own people.
Without getting into specific intelligence, Panetta told reporters at a news conference at the Department of Veterans Affairs there is no question that "as the opposition advances, in particular in Damascus, that the [Assad] regime might very well consider the use of chemical weapons." He added that what the U.S. knows "raises series concerns that this is being considered."
Panetta's comments came three days after President Barack Obama warned the Assad regime that there would be consequences for such a move, and that Assad himself would be held accountable.
Today, Panetta expanded on that warning.
"The president has made very clear that the Assad regime ought not to make the mistake of thinking that somehow it can use chemical weapons on its own people and get away with that. The whole world is watching," the defense secretary said.
Panetta said he would not comment on the consequences if Assad were to use weapons of mass destruction.
"But I think it's fair enough to say that the use of those weapons would cross a red line for us," he added.
The warnings to the Assad regime come as reports suggest opposition forces are closing in on Damascus and that the nearly two-year-old civil war is increasingly threatening Assad's inner circle.
On another matter, Panetta was asked today about the impact of sequestration on defense programs, should it occur.
"There is no question that if sequestration happens, it will impact those who are coming home [from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan]," he said. "It's going to impact on what we're going to be able to provide them."
Panetta compared the automatic budget cuts triggered by sequestration to a "meat-axe approach."
If implemented, sequestration would "have a serious impact in terms of those [service members] coming home, the programs that serve them, the support system that we have not only for them, but for their families," he added.
"It's for that reason, obviously, that our continuing hope is that the leadership in this country comes together and finds an agreement that avoids this deficit cliff that we're hanging on," Panetta said.