U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta voiced “deep skepticism” Thursday over the Syrian regime’s intent to honor a shaky U.N.-monitored ceasefire, citing a series of “deceitful actions” by President Bashar al-Assad.
The Pentagon chief said the events of recent days, notably a deal between Damascus and the United Nations on a framework for observers to monitor the truce, were “testing whether the Assad regime will live up to all of its responsibilities.”
Assad “faces deep skepticism about his motives, a skepticism based on a long train of Assad’s deceitful actions to date, including broken promises to his own people and to the international community,” Panetta told a House Armed Services Committee hearing.
“From every angle the situation in Syria is enormously complex,” he said, noting President Barack Obama’s administration’s opposition to unilateral military intervention.
“There is no silver bullet.”
Damascus has been under pressure to abide by a six-point peace plan drafted by U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan. A shaky ceasefire has mostly held for six days, and on Thursday Syria agreed with the United Nations on a framework for ceasefire observers.
Obama has faced criticism from some Republicans who have denounced Washington’s wait-and-see approach despite the Syrian regime’s repression, but Panetta recited the administration’s line that Assad’s days are numbered.
“Make no mistake: one way or another, this regime ultimately will meet its end.”
U.N. officials said more than 9,000 people have been killed since March 2011, when Assad began violently crushing what started as a peaceful movement but has turned more violent.
The United States is providing medical and communications equipment to the Syrian opposition, and has pledged $25 million in humanitarian aid, Panetta said.
The top U.S. military commander, General Martin Dempsey, warned in the hearing that the Syrian unrest was destabilizing the region.
“Spillover into neighboring countries is an increasing concern,” Dempsey said, alluding to border incidents last week and an influx of Syrian refugees to Turkey.
“We also need to be alert to extremists and other hostile actors seeking to exploit the situation,” including those seeking access to Syrian stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, he said.
The U.S. military was maintaining “an agile regional and global posture,” and “we have solid military relationships with every country on Syria's border,” Dempsey added.