US war ships 'move towards Syria'

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The US government is reportedly moving forces into place in case President Barack Obama opts for military action against Syria. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has broken from his election campaign routine to be briefed in Canberra on the Syrian crisis.

The Pentagon is moving forces into place in case President Barack Obama opts for military action against Syria, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel suggested.
   
But he declined to provide any details on the positioning of US troops and assets amid escalation in the Syrian civil war.
   
"The Defense Department has a responsibility to provide the president with options for all contingencies," Hagel said.
   
He spoke as a defense official said the US Navy will expand its presence in the Mediterranean with a fourth warship armed with cruise missiles.
   
The US Sixth Fleet, with responsibility in the Mediterranean, has decided to keep the USS Mahan in the region instead of letting it return to its home port in Norfolk, Virginia.
   
Three other destroyers are currently deployed in the region -- the USS Gravely, USS Barry and USS Ramage. All four warships are equipped with several dozen Tomahawk cruise missiles.
   
The reinforcement allows the Pentagon to act more rapidly if Obama orders a military strike.
   
"The president has asked the Defense Department for options. Like always, the Defense Department is prepared and has been prepared to provide all options for all contingencies to the president of the United States," Hagel said.
   
The Pentagon chief and other defense officials made clear no decision had been taken on whether to employ military force against President Bashar al-Assad's regime.
   
US newspapers have suggested disagreements within the administration over the risks of another American military intervention in the Middle East.
   
Mr Hagel said the US government would work closely with its allies.
   
"The international community should and will act in concert on these kinds of issues," he said.

PM RUDD HEADS TO CANBERRA FOR SYRIA BRIEFING

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is breaking from his election campaign routine to return to Canberra for a briefing on the crisis in Syria.

He's told reporters in Sydney he'll be working with officials on any possible Australian response.

Mr Rudd spoke with UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon yesterday about actions in the UN Security Council, and also discussed the issue with US ambassador to Australia Jeff Bleich.

Overnight, US President Barack Obama said allegations of a new chemical weapons attack by government forces on Syrian civilians were of "grave concern".

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has suspended his election campaign to return to Canberra for a briefing on the crisis in Syria.

He's told reporters in Sydney he'll be working with officials on any possible Australian response.

Mr Rudd spoke with UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon yesterday about actions in the UN Security Council, and also discussed the issue with US ambassador to Australia Jeff Bleich.

Overnight, US President Barack Obama said allegations of a new chemical weapons attack by government forces on Syrian civilians were of "grave concern".

"I've noted carefully what President Obama has said as this recent event is one which he and the government of the United states is viewing with great concern," Mr Rudd said.

"The Australian government views this development with equal concern."

The prime minister said that in his discussions with Ban Ki Moon the pair had discussed issues being considered by the security council, such aswhether chemical weapons had been used, who used them, and whether they would be used again.

"These are serious matters for the entire international community," he said.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott says it's entirely appropriate for the prime minister to be receiving security briefings on Syria.

Mr Abbott told reporters in Adelaide he hopes the international community will do what it can to help stop the "bloodshed".

He said his foreign affairs spokeswoman, Julie Bishop, will receive a briefing on Sunday and then brief him.

"Obviously I'm happy to receive briefings as well, as the situation unfolds," Mr Abbott said.

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