U.S. officials share classified information with lawmakers

Russia and Iran have dug in their heels to prevent a conflict in Syria — confronting a surge in activity in the United States, which signalled its readiness to rapidly expand the scale of military strikes against Damascus by ordering an aircraft carrier strike force to move in the direction of the Red Sea.

Flanked by four destroyers and a cruiser, the U.S. nuclear powered aircraft carrier, Nimitz manoeuvred its course from the Arabian Sea in the direction of Red Sea, inching within striking distance of Syria.

Reuters reported that the decision to move the Nimitz was taken in view of the looming decision on a strike against Syria. The U.S. Navy already has five destroyers in the eastern Mediterranean, capable of deploying around 200 Tomahawk missiles.

The presence of an aircraft carrier — a floating airfield — adds an aerial dimension to the possible conflict. Fighter jets operating from a carrier’s deck can be used for aerial bombardment or to gather intelligence about its air defence infrastructure.

As it strengthened its military assets, the U.S. officialdom went into overdrive to build a difficult moral case for western military strikes. Taking the lead in turning public opinion — so far staunchly opposed to a war — in favour of what has so far been touted as a limited assault, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry stormed the air waves on Sunday. Appearing on five morning talk shows, Mr. Kerry spoke about new evidence that neurotoxin sarin gas had been used to kill more than 1,400 people in Syria. Officials from the Obama administration also briefed law makers with classified information about the attack. The briefing was important as President Barack Obama has sought congressional approval for his plan to strike Syria.

Narrative

His Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, spiritedly rebutted the U.S. narrative. He tore through the veneer of certitude expressed by U.S. officials that it was indeed Damascus that was responsible for the chemical strike on the outskirts of Damascus on August 21.

He slammed the “regime of secrecy” cloaking the so-called clinching evidence that the Americans say they have with them, but are unable to share with foreign governments because it is classified.

Mr. Lavrov minced no words in saying the evidence, which the Americans and the Europeans have so far shared with Moscow can hardly be called conclusive. “What our American, British and French partners have shown us before — as well as now — does not convince us at all. There are no supporting facts; there is only repetitive talk in the vein of ‘we know for sure’. And when we ask for further clarification, we receive the following response: ‘You are aware that this is classified information, therefore we cannot show it to you.’ So there are still no facts.”

As the contest to establish the two competing narratives escalated, regional rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran also sparred heatedly over Syria. Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al Faisal, aired his country’s full support for U.S. military strikes against Syria, justifying it as a necessary humanitarian intervention.

But in Damascus, a senior visiting Iranian law maker Alaeddin Boroujerdi aired the argument that far from concerns about the humanitarian plight of the Syrian people, the Americans and their allies were cynically pursing a “regime change” agenda in Damascus.

He stressed that the era of regime change through military force had come to an end, and counselled the Americans to seek a political solution to end the crisis.

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