08/28/2013 02:18 EDT | Updated 10/27/2013 05:12 EDT

Defence Secretary Hagel meets with Asian defence leaders as tension builds over Syria

BANDER SERI BEGAWAN, Brunei - U.S. Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel is opening two days of talks with Asian defence 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 defence 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 defence 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.