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No evidence Syria mixing chemical agents, Pentagon official says

Russia and China both joined the U.S. in warning Syria that the use of weapons of mass destruction would have grave consequences, raising the question as to what will become of the chemical weapons if Assad's regime falls. NBC's Andrea Mitchell reports.

There is no evidence yet that the Syrian military has actually begun the process of mixing precursor chemicals to produce deadly Sarin nerve gas, a senior defense official told NBC News on Tuesday.

According to the official, despite the increased activity around several chemical weapons sites, including truck movements in and out, it’s not even clear that the precursors have been moved from separate storage sites to one location.

On Monday, US officials said the Syrian regime has ordered its Chemical Weapons Corps to “be prepared” which was interpreted to mean get all the precursors and pieces together to at least begin preparations for weaponization.  The officials stressed the directive did not come directly from President Bashir Assad and did not order the use of chemical weapons.   Those officials said yesterday, as the senior official repeated Tuesday that no evidence process has begun.

Citing concern about the possibility that Syria might use chemical weapons as well as the potential spillover of the ongoing civil war, NATO foreign ministers decided to deploy a Patriot missile defense system in Turkey on Tuesday. The Patriot system is designed to shoot down incoming aircraft, missiles or drones.

As for the President Obama’s warning there will be “consequences” if Syria does use chemical weapons,  the officials say the US military does have “contingency plans” (they always have contingency plans) for a possible military response. The White House has not detailed what those contingency plans are to date.

Officials suggest a US ground assault would pose the greatest risk and be least likely. It would take “thousands” of ground forces to seize, secure and hold about a dozen weapons sites.

President Obama made clear to Syrian President Bashar Assad and those under his command that "the world is watching" and the use of chemical weapons would be "totally unacceptable." If Syria does try to use those weapons, Obama added, there will be consequences. NBC's Andrea Mitchell reports.

Most likely would be airstrikes primarily with GPS-guided cruise missiles.   Piloted fighter-bombers would be forced to run a gauntlet of sophisticated Russian anti-aircraft missile defenses.

One senior official warned that bombing chemical weapons sites would pose a high risk of releasing deadly clouds of the Sarin nerve gas.  Instead, the official suggests airstrikes could be aimed directly at Syrian regime leadership.  “We would punish the leadership,” said the official.

As of today, US defense and military officials tell us there are still no warning orders or alerts to any US military forces to prepare for any possible military action against Syria.

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