Persistent violence in Syria and Egypt has sharply divided senior White House advisers over a moral dilemma: How far should the U.S. go to stop the killing when its actions could lead to war with Syria or damage relations with Egypt?

President Barack Obama (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Hundreds have died in Egypt during protests brought on by the military overthrow of President Mohammed Morsi. In Syria, allegations of chemical weapons attacks on civilians by the Assad regime come amid reports of more than 100,000 dead in the 2-year-old civil war.

Pentagon leaders argue for moderation in the U.S. response, noting the potential for damage to U.S.-Egypt relations and the possibility of being drawn into the Syrian war.

Others in the administration counter that the U.S. should take more decisive action in both countries.

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