US Secretary of State John Kerry 'argued for air strikes on Syria chemical weapons'

But he lost case during White House meeting, it is claimed

Jerusalem

John Kerry has argued for air strikes against Syria's chemical weapons stockpiles it has emerged, but faces stiff opposition among America's leading military commanders.

The new Secretary of State, who has immersed himself deeply in Middle Eastern matters since coming into office earlier this year, argued in favour of air strikes during a meeting in the White House situation room last week, according to Jeffrey Goldberg, a columnist at Bloomberg News, who is known to have close links to senior members of the Obama administration.

Mr Kerry is understood to have proposed attacks on several sites held by the Syrian regime. However the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey is understood to have scotched the proposals at the same meeting. General Dempsey is believed to have asked the US's leading diplomat how he expected to deal with the situation after any strike, and accused the State Department - and by implication, Mr Kerry - of not understanding the complexity of the situation.

The US, along with the UK and other Western allies, has got itself in a tangle over whether it intends to arm moderate rebel groups in Syria. There is evidence that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons, a move that President Barack Obama said last year that he considers to be a "red line". However, the idea of arming rebel groups has come unstuck over how the West intends to arm only those groups it considers to have an acceptable ideology.

"Dempsey informed Kerry that the Air Force could not simply drop a few bombs, or fire a few missiles, at targets inside Syria: To be safe, the US would have to neutralize Syria's integrated air-defence system, an operation that would require 700 or more sorties," wrote Mr Goldberg.

Mr Kerry is credited with having had a distinguished career and a deep knowledge of foreign affairs. However, recent developments also suggest a certain naivety. His other project in the region is the ambitious attempt to restart the stalled peace process between the Israelis and Palestinians: while his efforts have not yet been concluded, they have also met derision in some quarters and few on either side of the conflict have much hope that his initiative will ultimately lead to a lasting peace deal.

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