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Wednesday, June 29, 2011     INTELLIGENCE BRIEFING

U.S. now quietly seeking regime change in Syria

WASHINGTON — After steadfastly defending his regime, the United States is seeking to build an alliance against Syrian President Bashar Assad.


Officials said the administration of President Barack Obama was urging several U.S. allies in the region to undermine the Assad regime amid the revolt in Syria. They said Obama has sent messages to several of Syria's neighbors, particularly Israel, Jordan and Turkey.

"The United States cannot be seen as being involved in regime change in Syria, but it is clear that Assad must go for the sake of regional stability," an official said.

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Officials said Obama has urged Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan to improve relations with Israel as part of a strategy against Assad. They said the president envisioned that Ankara and Jerusalem coordinate intelligence and military deployment to help prevent Assad from using his army against the opposition movement. So far, Damascus is said to have killed more than 1,300 Syrian civilians in nearly three months, Middle East Newsline reported.

In June, Israel and Turkey conducted high-level talks meant to improve relations and cooperation. Officials said Erdogan agreed to an Israeli request to stop a Turkish-flagged flotilla from sailing to the Gaza Strip, under siege since the Hamas takeover in 2007.

Officials said Obama, who has not publicly addressed Syria since May 19, was changing U.S. policy toward Assad. They said the change came in wake of recent talks between Obama and Erdogan in which the Turkish prime minister warned that Assad's crackdown could destroy Syria and lead to a separate Kurdish entity along the borders of Iraq and Turkey.

"Once Erdogan stopped his support for Assad, the president quickly changed as well, although he kept this private," the official said.

In late June, the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff approved a proposal to enhance military monitoring of Syria. Officials said the U.S. Navy's Sixth Fleet was stationed near the Syrian coast of the eastern Mediterranean to monitor Syrian military deployment as well as the presence of Iran and Hizbullah.

Officials said Obama has been alarmed by the prospect of a military clash between Syria and Turkey. They said most of the Syrian Army's Fourth Division, led by Assad's younger brother, Maher, has been deployed along the Turkish border.

"Turkey sees this as a threat and could lash out before long," the official said. "There is an attempt, coordinated with other neighbors of Syria, to force Assad to withdraw his forces from the Turkish border."

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