Panetta says #Syria’s Assad is hastening own demise
TUNIS, Tunisia — Syrian President Bashar Assad’s use of helicopter gunships to counter a civil uprising will prove to be “a nail in Assad’s coffin,” U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Sunday at the outset of a five-day Middle East tour.
While giving no indication that the Obama administration is contemplating military intervention, Mr. Panetta said it is increasingly clear that the Syrian crisis is deepening and that Mr. Assad is hastening his own demise.
“His regime is coming to an end,” Mr. Panetta told reporters.
Mr. Panetta said he would use his meetings in Tunisia, Egypt, Israel and Jordan to reinforce an international consensus that Mr. Assad must step down and allow a peaceful transition to a democratic form of government.
Mr. Panetta said he also will continue consultations on efforts to ensure that Syria’s stockpiles of chemical weapons do not fall into the wrong hands.
Mr. Panetta will be in Israel just days after U.S. Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, who has cast the Obama administration as too soft on Iran and insufficiently supportive of the Jewish state.
Mr. Panetta said he believes Israeli leaders still support an international campaign of economic, political and diplomatic pressure on Iran to prevent it from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
“My view is that they have not made any decisions with regards to” attacking Iran, he said.
While in Israel, Mr. Panetta planned to visit an air defense battery that uses technology developed in part with U.S. support to shoot down rockets.
He called the air defense system, Iron Dome, an example of expanded U.S.-Israeli cooperation.
“We have achieved a level of defense cooperation that is unprecedented in our history,” he said. “And my goal is to deepen that relationship even further.”
This is Mr. Panetta’s first visit to Tunis as defense secretary. The country was the launching pad for the wave of revolt that swept through the Arab world in 2011.