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Hagel meets Asian defense leaders as Syria simmers

Wednesday - 8/28/2013, 2:44pm  ET

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, left, shakes hands with Japan's Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera during their bilateral meeting in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei, Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2013. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)

AP National Security Writer

BANDER SERI BEGAWAN, Brunei (AP) -- U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is opening two days of talks with Asian defense leaders in Brunei, pushing for closer military ties even as the world is focused on Syria.

Hagel was consulting by phone with administration officials and with allied defense chiefs, and he raised the Syria crisis in a one-on-one meeting Wednesday with his South Korean counterpart. Officials said the two agreed that the purported chemical weapons attack on civilians last week in Syria was a matter of deep concern.

Japan's defense minister thanked Hagel for taking the time to attend the Association of Southeast Asian Nations conference amid the Syria crisis.

Hagel told a British television interviewer on Tuesday that U.S. forces were "ready to go" should President Barack Obama order a military strike on Syria.

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