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November 14, 2012

Obama Voices Support for Syrian Opposition, Discusses Iran

by Dan Robinson

In his first news conference since winning reelection, President Barack Obama said he still hopes for a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear issue. Obama also discussed the situation in Syria

Most of the questions to Obama dealt with the U.S. economy, but he was asked about Syria and Iran.

On Syria, the president was asked about the continuing brutal crackdown by the government of President Bashar al-Assad, and whether the United States formally recognizes the newly-formed coalition of Syrian opposition groups.

Obama said he is encouraged by the development, adding U.S. envoys will be talking with the coalition.  But he stopped short of voicing any formal recognition, as France as done.

He underscored U.S. concern that the Syrian umbrella opposition group show it is committed to certain basic principles.

"We are not yet prepared to recognize them as some sort of government in exile, but we do think that it is a broad-based representative group.  One of the questions that we are going to continue to press is making sure that that opposition is committed to a democratic Syria, an inclusive Syria, a moderate Syria," Obama said.

Obama mentioned U.S. concern that Syria's opposition not be "splintered and divided" in the face of what he called the "onslaught" by the Assad regime.

He said the U.S. remains in very close contact with Turkey and Jordan, and Israel, which he said has concerns about possible movements of Syrian chemical weapons.

The president had this response when asked if there was any point at which the U.S. would consider arming the opposition.

"We have seen extremist elements insinuate themselves into the opposition.  And one of things we have to be on guard about, particularly when we start talking about arming opposition figures, is that we're not indirectly putting arms in the hands of folks who would do Americans harm, or do Israelis harm, or otherwise engage in actions that are detrimental to our national security," Obama said.

Obama was also asked if he plans a new diplomatic push for a negotiated solution to the Iranian nuclear issue.

Saying he "very much" wants to see such a solution, he said a "window of time" remains to resolve the issue diplomatically.

Yes, I will try to make a push in the coming months to see if we can open up a dialogue between Iran and not just us but the international community to see if we can get this thing resolved.  I can't promise that Iran will walk through the door that they need to walk through, but that would be very much the preferable option," Obama said.

Asked under what circumstances direct U.S. - Iranian discussions might take place, Obama declined to talk about what he called the "details of negotiations."

But he said it was "fair to say" the U.S. wants to get the issue resolved and would not be constrained by diplomatic niceties or protocols."  Iran has said its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.