Senior NATO Official: Assad Unlikely to Manage to Stay in Power

Head of NATO's Syria committee says Western alliance drafting plans for safeguarding Syria's chemical weapons stocks if Assad steps down or forced from power; U.S. defense secretary signs order to send Patriot missiles to Turkey.

Syrian President Bashar Assad is unlikely to be able to stay in power, a senior NATO official said on Friday.

Knud Bartels, a Danish general who chairs NATO's Military Committee, also said the Western alliance was drafting plans for safeguarding Syria's chemical weapons stocks if Assad stepped down or was forced from power.

"You may say I am maybe assuming that Assad will disappear. I tend to believe that this is indeed the case," Bartels said after a meeting in Moscow.

Answering a question about strategies over the conflict in Syria, he said NATO's greatest concern was over the security of Turkey, which borders Syria.

Also on Friday, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta signed an order to send two Patriot missile batteries to Turkey along with 400 American personnel to operate them, his spokesman said.

"The purpose of this deployment is to signal very strongly that the United States, working closely with our NATO allies, is going to support the defense of Turkey, especially with potential threats emanating from Syria," spokesman George Little told reporters before Panetta landed on an unannounced visit to Turkey.

Eariler this week, forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad have fired Scud missiles at rebels trying to overthrow Syria's government, a senior U.S. official said.

Use of the missiles was seen as escalation in Assad's attempt to retain power.

A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed the use of Scuds.

In Brussels, a NATO official also said on Wednesday that a number of short-range ballistic missiles have been launched inside Syria this week.

Also this week, President Barack Obama granted U.S. recognition to a Syrian opposition coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people, a move aimed at ratcheting up pressure on Syrian President Bashar Assad to leave power.

"Recognition of Syrian opposition group meant to boost those working toward political transition, democratic future," Nuland said. The head of the coalition, Moaz al-Khatib, Nuland added, was invited to Washington "as soon as it's convenient to them."