Obama administration signaled it’s prepared to take action alone.
This citizen journalism image shows a member of UN investigation team taking samples of sands near a part of a missile that is likely to be one of the chemical rockets according to activists, in Damascus countryside of Ain Terma, Syria, Wednesday.
WASHINGTON – In his first direct comments about the Syrian crisis, President Obama said Wednesday that his government has concluded Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime is responsible for a large-scale chemical weapons attack that killed civilians but that he’s not yet decided how to respond to a breach he said demands “international consequences.”
Obama told PBS’ “NewsHour” that he’s received options from the military and consulted with his national security team but hasn’t yet reached a decision. Still, he added, “We do have to make sure that when countries break international norms on weapons like chemical weapons that could threaten us, that they’re held accountable.”
The interview came as the administration on Wednesday signaled that the United States is ready and willing to take military action against the Syrian regime without authorization from the United Nations Security Council.
Obama said the U.S. ultimately would like a political solution to the war in Syria. “We’re prepared to work with anybody, the Russians and others, to try to bring the parties together to resolve the conflict,” he said.
A State Department spokeswoman said the U.S. cannot be held back by the intransigence of Russia, which has so far stymied three Security Council resolutions to condemn the Syrian regime.
“We do not believe that the Syrian regime should be able to hide behind the fact that the Russians continue to block action on Syria at the U.N., and we will make our decision on appropriate action going forward,” Marie Harf told a press briefing on Wednesday.
That means the U.S. isn’t likely to wait for the Security Council to vote on a resolution drafted by the British prime minister’s office that would blame Assad’s government for the alleged nerve gas attack on Aug. 21 and authorize “all necessary measures” under the U.N. Charter to protect civilians from chemical weapons.
The U.N.’s special envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, in Geneva told reporters, “It does seem like some kind of substance was used.”
He went on to say that any action must have U.N. Security Council backing.
Obama offered no details on what evidence the United States might have, but he said “nobody disputes or hardly anybody disputes” that chemical weapons were used in Syria against the civilian population. He said the U.S. has “looked at all the evidence” and doesn’t believe the Syrian opposition possessed the type of chemical weapons that were used — nor could it have carried out the rocket attacks that delivered the chemicals.
“We have concluded that the Syrian government in fact carried these out and, if that’s so, there needs to be international consequences,” he said, adding that the U.S. is consulting with allies and the international community.
The administration is believed to be seeking a targeted operation aimed at the use of chemical weapons, and not regime change. Obama said he had “no interest in any kind of open-ended conflict in Syria.”
He acknowledged that a targeted operation wouldn’t “solve all the problems inside of Syria,” but he added that if there were repercussions to the use of chemical weapons, “then the Assad regime … will have received a pretty strong signal that, in fact, it better not do it again.”
‘It’s too late’
The conventional wisdom is that no attack will take place before a U.N. inspection team has left Syria. A final report from the inspectors could take weeks, however, and the Obama administration seems disinclined to wait for its findings.
“It’s too late for the U.N. inspections to be credible, given the mass shelling the regime has done in the affected areas, and we’re going to make our own decisions on our own timelines about our response,” said Harf, the State Department spokeswoman.
Syria’s ambassador to the U.N., Bashar Jaafari, told reporters on Wednesday that his government has asked the U.N. inspectors to stay longer in the country to investigate alleged chemical attacks by rebel forces against Syrian troops.