December 5th, 2012
07:15 PM ET

Is Assad seeking asylum?

By Jamie Crawford

U.S. officials have said for months that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's days in power are numbered.

A fight to the death might seem a more plausible outcome as the carnage of the Syrian civil war approaches its second year.

But the idea of asylum in a third country is an option that is also emerging in questions over Assad's fate.

The complexities of a successful flight from Syria, however, could complicate any hope that Assad harbors for a clean get away.

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported Wednesday that Faisal al-Miqdad, the Syrian deputy foreign minister, recently traveled to Cuba, Venezuela and Ecuador with personal letters from Assad looking at the possibility of political asylum for himself and his family if he were forced to leave Damascus.
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Filed under: Assad • Syria
December 5th, 2012
06:44 PM ET

Bracing for a chemical weapon attack

Sources tell CNN’s Barbara Starr that the Pentagon and US intelligence services are consulting with Syria's neighbors Turkey, Israel and Jordan about what to do if it looks like Assad is about to launch a chemical attack on his own people.

A senior US official says all the allies are now considering how to keep Syria from putting chemical warheads on its artillery or missiles.

But an airstrike to stop it, could cause havoc if residual chemicals escape.

What if Assad leaves? US officials say they have long been planing for 'the day after Assad" – such as training Jordanian troops to provide security – but for now they just hope Syrians troops will keep those chemical weapons under lock and key.

Pentagon told to start planning for fiscal cliff cuts
December 5th, 2012
03:38 PM ET

Pentagon told to start planning for fiscal cliff cuts

By Mike Mount

The White House has ordered the military to start planning for the possibility of cutting $500 billion from its budget over the next 10 years as part of the fiscal cliff, Pentagon officials said on Wednesday.

Agency spokesman George Little told reporters that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) instructed the Defense Department to start internal planning for possible spending reductions on top of other cuts already in the pipeline.

The military had been ordered for months not to get ready for the automatic budget cuts - also known as sequestration - related to the fiscal cliff that would hit January 2.

"Naturally, we hope very much that sequestration will be avoided and that we don't enter that phase in early January 2013. We don't want to go off the fiscal cliff, but in consultation with OMB, we think that it is prudent at this stage to begin at least some limited internal planning," Little said.

The fiscal cliff is a combination of tax increases and spending cuts that are due to take effect if the White House and Congress cannot agree on a framework for tackling deficit-reduction by year's end.
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Adding Islamist group to terror list could hurt Syrian rebel's efforts
A handout picture released by the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) on May 12, 2012, shows workers removing the debris following twin suicide bombings in Damascus that killed 55 people on May 10. Al-Nusra Front, an Islamist group unknown before the Syrian revolt, released a video claiming responsibility for twin suicide bombings. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
December 5th, 2012
01:19 PM ET

Adding Islamist group to terror list could hurt Syrian rebel's efforts

By Elise Labott and Tim Lister

The U.S. State Department is planning to designate the al-Nusra Front, a radical Islamist group in Syria, as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, according to two U.S. officials who spoke to CNN on background.

The announcement is likely to come within the next week, the officials said. The State Department has been building the case against the group, which is called Jabhat al-Nusra in Arabic, for several months, according to the officials.

The hope is to finalize the designation just before the next so-called Friends of Syria meeting, scheduled to take place in Morocco December 12. One official said the exact timing of the announcement was still in flux.

The goal of the designation is to isolate extremists groups in Syria while giving a boost to the new political opposition group unveiled at a summit in Doha, Qatar, last month. The United States and other western governments had pushed for the formation of a new opposition group that was more representative of people inside Syria, as opposed to a group mostly comprised of Syrian expatriates.
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