Nightly News   |  August 24, 2013

White House weighs its options for Syria

Reports claim the Syrian army used chemical weapons against its citizens, but the government denies it. How will President Obama respond? NBC's Ayman Mohyeldin reports.

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>>> now. the white house is weighing its options against the assad regime after reports that syria 's army used chemical weapons on its citizens. doctors without borders, which has teams in syria , confirms that thousands have been treated for symptoms of exposure to a chemical agent . tonight as the obama administration considers its response, u.s. warships are on alert in the mediterranean near syria . we have two reports beginning with nbc's aymam moye yell dean is in cairo.

>> doctors treated more than 31 patients wednesday out of which more than 350 died as a result. now all of them they say displayed symptoms of neurotoxicity, an indication that perhaps chemical weapons were actually used. the syrian government has denied any responsibility and denied that it used chemical weapons , more importantly today on syrian state television they showed images of chemical weapons that were allegedly found in areas that were controlled by syrian rebels, an indication that perhaps it was the rebels that were responsible for launching these weapons. meanwhile, the top u.n. disarmament chief, the undersecretary-general for the united nations arrived in damascus. she's been trying to press the syrian government to give u.n. inspectors access to the site of attacks so they can determine exactly what happened. as the u.s. and other countries weigh a possible military option against syria a senior iranian lawmaker today warned that any military intervention inside syria would result in a regional war that would not end favorably to the united states or to allies across the region. lester?

>> eamon mohyeldin in high row, thanks.

>> we turn to david gregory . the president met with his national security advisers today, david, what are we learning?

>> what's clear, lester, there is a new sense of urgency in the white house after this attack. despite that, there is disagreement i can tell you among the president's advisers about what should come next. among the questions, what is the legal justification for military action and what would an attack accomplish? the intelligence community is trying to verify facts on the ground and at this point the white house is saying little, only stressing that while the u.s. has a range of options available, the president will make an informed decision in a deliberate way rather than pursue quick action before the facts are known. the president described this week's alleged chemical attack as a "big event" with grave concern. right now the u.s. navy has four guided missile destroyers in the mediterranean, two well within firing range of any targets in syria . defense secretary hagel declined to discuss any specific forced movements but left little doubt he thinks chemical weapons were involved saying "it appears to be what happened, use of chemical weapons ." on the table limited air strikes , most likely cruise missiles launched from those destroyers, targeting key assad military command posts. government officials telling us the case for military action is taking shape. military officials are barning that extremist figures like al qaeda are being drawn to the chaos in syria like a "moth to a flame." you add chemical weapons and that's why you hear the president talk about core national interests being at stake