Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the Pentagon is prepared "for any action that we're called upon to do" to remove Syrian President Bashar Assad from power, but the U.S. is not considering acting without U.N. backing.

“This is an intolerable situation,” Panetta said Thursday while traveling to Singapore for a regional security summit. “The international community has got to take further steps to make sure Assad steps down.”

Panetta said an effective transition of power in Syria remains a possibility, but added "the longer this goes on, the greater the threat the situation's going to get worse."

“I think that Assad ultimately is going to be removed from power,” he said. “None of us can tell you when, but I think it’s just a matter of time.”

hladj@stripes.osd.milTwitter: @jhlad

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