Western powers are closing ranks against Syrian President Bashar Assad, as the chances for a Western-led military strike against the rogue regime, over its alleged use of chemical weapons against civilians last week, seem to be growing. But Assad's main protector, Russian President Vladimir Putin, is sticking by his regional ally, making any prospect of Western intervention in the evolving Syria crisis potentially global.
Assad on Monday dismissed the West's allegations, saying, "Would any state use chemical or any other weapons of mass destruction in a place where its own forces are concentrated? That would go against elementary logic." In an interview with Russian newspaper Izvestia, he warned Washington that any U.S. military intervention would fail: "Failure awaits the United States as in all previous wars it has unleashed, starting with Vietnam and up to the present day," he said.
Assad hinted at the backing he was receiving from Putin, saying, "The U.S. presumed that with the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia was perpetually destroyed. After President Putin took office in the late 90s, Russia began to gradually recover and regain its international position; hence the Cold War began again, but in a different and subtler manner."
Asked if Russia would go ahead with the sale and delivery of the sophisticated S-300 anti-aircraft battery to Syria, Assad said, "All contracts signed with Russia are being honored and neither the crisis nor the pressure from the U.S., European or Gulf countries' have affected their implementation. Russia continues to supply Syria with what it requires to defend itself and its people."
Assad also drew a direct link between Israel and "the terrorists" his forces were fighting against.
"Why is it then that when we strike the terrorists at the frontier, Israel strikes at our forces to alleviate the pressure off of them? Why, when we blockade them into an area does Israel let them through their barricades so they can come round and re-attack from another direction? Why has Israel carried out direct strikes against the Syrian Army on more than one occasion in recent months? It is Israel who has publicly declared its cooperation with these terrorists and treated them in Israeli hospitals," Assad said.
"If these terrorist groups were indeed hostile to Israel and hysterical even on the mention of the word... why have they fought the Soviet Union, Syria and Egypt, while never carrying out a single strike against Israel? Who originally created these terrorist groups? These groups were initially created in the early 80s by the United States and the West, with Saudi funding, to fight the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. So logically speaking, how could such groups manufactured by the US and the West ever strike Israel!"
While Washington was adamant Sunday that no decision has been made to strike Syria, a senior White House official was quoted as saying that "there is very little doubt" that the Assad regime is responsible for the alleged chemical attack on the rebel-held suburbs east of Damascus.
"Based on the reported number of victims, reported symptoms of those who were killed or injured, witness accounts, and other facts," a senior administration official told ABC News, "There is very little doubt at this point that a chemical weapon was used by the Syrian regime against civilians in this incident. We are continuing to assess the facts so the President can make an informed decision about how to respond to this indiscriminate use of chemical weapons."
The German magazine Focus reported Friday that Unit 8200 -- Israel's elite Military Intelligence unit -- was monitoring the Syrian army's communications at the time of the attack, and also quoting a former Mossad official as saying that the communications' analysis left no doubt that the Syrian government authorized the attack.
British media reported Monday that Obama and Prime Minister David Cameron conferred for 40 minutes on Sunday, and that they U.K. is likely to join the U.S. should it strike Syria.
The BBC quoted a 10 Downing Street source as saying both leaders were "gravely concerned by the increasing signs" that Assad's forces had used unconventional weapons against civilians.
The Telegraph reports that while "Western powers had not ruled out seeking U.N. endorsement for military action they were also prepared to unilaterally."A second Downing Street source added: "We intend to show that an attack of this nature will not pass without a serious response."
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said, "We cannot in the 21st century allow the idea that chemical weapons can be used with impunity and there are no consequences."
According to the report, the Royal Navy plans to deploy several destroyers to the Mediterranean Sea, where they will join the U.S. Sixth Fleet.
CBS news, however, quoted a White House official as denying that Obama and Cameron had already finalized a plan of attack against Assad.
Both leaders have reportedly also discussed a possible coordinated military response with French President Francois Hollande.
"President Obama and President Hollande discussed possible responses by the international community and agreed to continue to consult closely," the White House said in a statement.
In Paris, Hollande said a "body of evidence" suggests that chemical weapons were used during attacks on a Damascus suburb that killed hundreds, and that Assad's regime was most likely behind it. Hollande said "everything" leads France to believe the regime was behind the attack
Cameron and Hollande have "agreed that a chemical weapons attack against the Syrian people on the scale that was emerging demanded a firm response from the international community," a British government spokesman said. "This crime must not be swept under the carpet."
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who is currently visiting Israel, said Sunday that "I have already spoken clearly about the use of chemical weapons and Assad's regime. We must respond strongly to these events. All the leaders must reach the appropriate response but it is unthinkable that once what happened is proven and those responsible identified there will not be a strong response by the international community. If the international community fails to act following the events in Syria then the people of the world will wonder who can be trusted, on whom can we depend."
Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said Sunday that Australia -- which will assume presidency of the United Nations Security Council in September -- will use its position to "push for a global solution… to the mediaeval and barbaric scene unfolding in Syria. We are still establishing the facts. We have, together with the U.S., grave concerns as to what has occurred here. But [we need to] establish all facts first in a calm and considered way respond as appropriate." He said.
Former Syrian ally Turkey also said it would support military action Agaist Assad. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Monday the Ankara would join any international coalition against Syria even if a wider consensus on action cannot be reached at the U.N. Security Council.
"We always priorities acting together with the international community, with U.N. decisions. If such a decision doesn't emerge from the Security Council, other alternatives ... would come onto the agenda," Davutoglu told the Milliyet daily. "Currently 36-37 countries are discussing these alternatives. If a coalition is formed against Syria in this process, Turkey would take its place in this coalition."
Obama's consultations with world leaders took place as a three-day military chiefs' summit, hosted by the U.S. Central Command and the Jordanian Armed Forces, began in Amman on Sunday. The summit will focus on the region's security environment. U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey is attending the summit, as are commander of the U.S. forces in Middle East Gen. Lloyd Austin and Chief of the Defense Staff of the British Armed Forces Gen. Sir Nick Houghton.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman: "Show prudence and avoid tragic mistakes"
But not all are in agreement that a military strike on Syria is the best course of action, as both Germany and Russia have urged the U.S. and the U.K. to exercise restraint.
Moscow urged the U.S. and its allies Sunday to await the findings of a U.N. inspection team expected to visit the site of an alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria and avoid military action. Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich encouraged Western powers to "show prudence and avoid tragic mistakes" by rushing to a conclusion about the incident.
"Our American and European partners must understand what catastrophic consequences this kind of politics would have for the region, for the Arab and Islamic world as a whole," Lukashevich said, advising the U.S. and its allies against taking a "gamble" and using unilateral force in Syria.
Russia, a long-time ally of Syria, has -- alongside China -- repeatedly blocked the U.N. Security Council from taking action against Assad, insisting that the West must not interfere in the civil war raging in the country.
A senior Iranian parliamentarian, Hussein Sheikh al-Islam, dismissed an external military campaign against Syria, but said that Israel would be the "first victim" in such circumstances.
"Syria will not be attacked militarily, but if it happens, the Zionist regime will be the first victim," the semi-official Iranian Fars news agency reported.
German Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere voiced his objections to such a campaign, saying, "I do not see an outside military intervention in this terrible civil war in Syria. It can only be a political solution. The West should not think they can solve problems by military means in the Middle East."
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle spoke with U.N. disarmament chief Angela Kane about the agreement between the U.N. and Syria to allow experts to visit the site. "This is an important agreement in a dramatic situation... I welcome that the examination will begin without delay," he said.
The Syrian government continues to deny that chemical weapons have been used by its forces, maintain that they were used by the rebels in a ploy meant to force the West to intervene in its internal affairs.
Syrian rebels vowed Sunday to avenge the death of the civilians killed in last week's chemical weapons attack, which is believed to have involves sarin gas. Reports of the death toll in the attack range from 355, as claimed by Syrian state media, and 1,300, as claimed by the opposition. The Arab media reported Sunday that Turkey had delivered over 400 tons of weapons and munitions to the Free Syrian Army.