Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey and General Lloyd J. Austin III, commander of U.S. Central Command, are currently leading a three-day emergency meeting of defense chiefs from 10 nations in Amman, Jordan, U.S. Army newspaper Stars and Stripes reported, citing military officials.
The meeting, which opened on Sunday, is co-hosted by Jordan’s chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Mishaal Zaben, and includes top generals from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Canada, the semi-official Petra news agency reported, citing Jordanian military sources. It said the commanders “would discuss regional security and implications of the ongoing crisis in Syria.”
Stars and Stripes said the Jordanian military, which boasts 120,000 troops, has deployed many of its combat units to its northern border with Syria in an effort to prevent a spillover of the ongoing fighting between rebel groups, and the regime of President Bashar Al-Assad. Jordanian officials said about 560,000 Syrians have already fled across the frontier.
According to Stars and Stripes, the U.S. has some 1,000 troops based in Jordan, including a headquarters unit, an F-16 fighter detachment at the Mafraq air base, as well as Patriot anti-missile systems at two sites in the kingdom. In addition, the USS Kearsarge, a Marine amphibious assault ship, is reported to be approaching Jordan’s only port of Aqaba. The U.S. Navy has also deployed an extra destroyer to the eastern Mediterranean, bringing to four the number of warships in the area capable of firing cruise missiles against land targets, Stars and Stripes said.
According to Israeli daily Maariv, the meeting in Jordan is being held to address the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria. Last week, Syrian rebel forces battling Assad’s regime said that approximately 1,300 people had died during an overnight strike on a suburb of Damascus. The rebels alleged Assad’s forces used chemical weapons in the attack, pointing to symptoms among the victims of extreme exposure to toxins.
Damascus has vehemently denied that it carried out toxic gas attacks on rebel-held areas and accused the insurgents of mounting a chemical attack on its own troops in the area. Syrian television has claimed that government troops found tunnels storing chemicals in formerly rebel held areas that have now been overrun by government forces. Russia and Iran, Syria’s main allies, have supported calls for a United Nations inquiry into the attack, with both accusing jihadist groups of having carried it out.
Ma’ariv also reported that Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told a local television station that the Syrian government will allow UN inspectors already in the territory to examine the areas the opposition forces claim were hit with chemical weapons. Foreign Minister Zarif added that he had spoken by telephone with Italian Foreign Minister Emma Bonino and said that Tehran is in constant touch with the government in Damascus. Zarif said that Damascus has insisted to Tehran that chemical weapons have not been used, and that it intends to cooperate fully with any inquiry on the subject. Last week, the UN Security Council decided not to order an investigation into the situation in Syria after Russia and China vetoed the move.
U.S. President Barack Obama discussed the situation in Syria by telephone with UK Prime Minister David Cameron, the Associated Press reported, citing the White House.
“It was Obama’s first known conversation with a foreign leader about Syria since reports of the alleged chemical attack. The White House said the two leaders expressed ‘grave concern’ about the reported use of chemical weapons,” reported Stars and Stripes.