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Panetta says US ready on Syria if required

The Secretary of Defense insisted, however, that diplomacy was the best option.

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Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta testifies before Congress on Syria, Thursday.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

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U.S. military leaders clearly expressed reluctance about using American might to stop the unending violence in Syria, insisting that diplomacy remains the best option to force President Bashar Assad to end the brutal crackdown on his own people.

Testifying before Congress, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, outlined the steps the United States and other countries are taking to pressure the Assad regime after 13 months of bloodshed that has left more than 9,000 dead, according to the United Nations, and displaced tens of thousands. The steps range from tough sanctions to shared intelligence to $25 million in emergency humanitarian assistance.

Dempsey said if called upon, the military would be ready to act and the services are working on ways to try to halt the violence. But both he and Panetta set a high threshold for U.S. military involvement in a war in the Middle East after lengthy conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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