The United States is increasingly focused on how to secure Syria’s chemical weapons if President Bashar Assad falls from power, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Thursday, January 10, Agence France Presse reported. While the U.S. government has issued stern warnings to Damascus against resorting to chemical weaponry in its war with rebel forces, Panetta said the greater risk might be a chaotic vacuum if Assad is toppled. The U.S. government was discussing the issue with Israel and other countries in the region, he said, but ruled out deploying American ground forces in any “hostile” setting. Even if the regime chooses not to employ the weapons, the Obama administration worries that Islamist militants allied with rebel forces might gain control of some chemical sites. Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile, which dates back to the 1970s, is the biggest in the Middle East.