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Assad: 'Failure awaits the United States' if it attacks Syria

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad warned the United States Monday not to take military action against his country in the wake of accusations that his government has used chemical weapons against rebel forces. 

In comments published Monday in the Russian newspaper Izvestia, Assad was quoted as saying "Failure awaits the United States as in all previous wars it has unleashed, starting with Vietnam and up to the present day." Assad added that the accusation of chemical weapons use were "against elementary logic," explaining that Syrian government forces were near where the alleged attack took place.

Reuters reported later Monday that a convoy of United Nations weapons inspectors had left a Damascus hotel and were en route to the site in the eastern suburbs of the Syrian capital. 

Also Monday, Russia's foreign ministry, an ally of Assad's, released a statement saying that Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov had urged restraint to US Secretary of State John Kerry when the two spoke by phone Sunday. 

"[Lavrov] stressed that the official announcements from Washington in recent days about the readiness of U.S. armed forces to 'intervene' in the Syrian conflict have been received in Moscow with deep concern," the statement read in part, according to Reuters. 

A senior State Department official told Fox News that Kerry had told Lavrov during their conversation that the United States had "very little doubt that a chemical weapon was used by the Syrian regime against civilians." The official added that Kerry had also spoken to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, British Foreign Secretary William Hague, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, and Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird and had relayed the same message to them. 

Hague told BBC Radio Monday that it would be possible for Western allies to respond to the use of chemical weapons in Syria without the unanimous backing of the United Nations Security Council. Such a situation would almost certainly arise due to Russia's power to veto any proposed resolution in the council authorizing the use of force against the Syrian government. 

"Is it possible to respond to chemical weapons without complete unity on the UN Security Council?" Hague asked, according to Reuters. "I would argue yes it is otherwise it might be impossible to respond to such outrages, such crimes, and I don't think that's an acceptable
situation.''

Reuters reported that Hague's Turkish counterpart, Ahmet Davutoglu concurred, telling a Turkish newspaper that Turkey would join any international coalition that forms against the Assad government, with or without UN backing.  

However, Fabius told Europe 1 radio Monday that no final decision had been made, but all options remained available. 

"There has to be a proportional reaction ... and that will be decided in the coming days," Fabius said, according to Reuters. "All options are envisaged. The only one that is not on the table is to not do anything."

On Sunday, members of Congress cautioned President Obama about a full-scale intervention.

Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told "Fox News Sunday" that he thinks the president will respond soon with military action.

However, he suggested waiting until Congress returns next week to seek its authorization and that the United States respond “in a surgical way.”

“I hope the president will … do something in a very surgical and proportional way, something that gets their attention,” he said. “At the same time, I hope it's the kind of action that doesn't move us away from the policy we have right now where we want to see the Syrian opposition group taking the lead on the ground.”

Assad's forces are accused of using a chemical weapon on civilians Wednesday near Damascus, killing at least 100 people.

A senior administration official says the White House thinks Assad and his forces originally denied United Nations investigators immediate access to the site of the reported attack to give the evidence time to degrade. In addition, the White House thinks any inspection now will be too late, the official said.

Corker was joined on the show by New York Rep. Eliot Engel, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, who called the alleged civilian attacks last week “horrific" and urged the U.S. to respond with its NATO allies.

“But we have to move, and we have to move now,” Engel said.

Engel and Corker's comments come after almost a year of lawmakers pressing Obama to make good on his statement about Syria “crossing a red line” by using chemical weapons.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel suggested Friday that the Pentagon might move naval forces closer to Syria in preparation for a possible decision by Obama to order military strikes.

However, U.S. defense officials have said the Navy has already sent a fourth warship armed with ballistic missiles into the eastern Mediterranean Sea, with lawmakers saying the best strategy now might by using Cruise missiles fired from off shore.

Rhode Island Democratic Sen. Jack Reed, a member of the chamber’s Armed Services Committee, told CBS’ “Face the Nation” the United States cannot let itself get into a situation in Syria “where this becomes a springboard for a general military option."

"We have to verify (the chemical attack) was directed by the Assad regime because that will allow us to build an international coalition, which is absolutely necessary to take any more steps in Syria,” he added.

Other Syrian allies on Sunday also reportedly warned the United States about taking military action. Massoud Jazayeri, Iran’s deputy chief of staff for armed forces, warned the U.S. about crossing a "red line" on Syria, saying such action would have "severe consequences," according to Reuters.

The reports of thousands killed or stricken by chemical weapons last week is the latest allegation about such tactics in the Middle East country’s roughly 2-year-long civil war.

The White House has been reluctant to take direct military actions, instead supplying rebel forces with non-lethal aid, weighing military options and trying to garner international support.

The senior administration official said Sunday that the U.S. intelligence community made the assessment about likely chemical use based on "the reported number of victims, reported symptoms of those who were killed or injured and witness accounts."

The administration statement follows a meeting Saturday between President Obama and his National Security Council that concluded with the White House saying the administration was still “gathering facts.”

The official spoke Sunday on the condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak publicly.

Syrian state media accused rebels of using chemical arms against government troops in clashes Saturday near Damascus, while Doctors Without Borders said it has tallied 355 deaths from the purported chemical weapons attack on Wednesday.

The international aid group said three hospitals it supports in the eastern Damascus region reported receiving roughly 3,600 patients with "neurotoxic symptoms" over less than three hours on Wednesday morning when the attack in the eastern Ghouta area took place. Of those, 355 died.

U.S. confirmation took more than four months after rebels similarly reported chemical attacks in February, though in this instance a U.N. chemical weapons team is already on the ground in Syria. Assad's government, then as now, has denied the claims as baseless.

Fox News' James Rosen, The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.