News / Middle East

    Obama Renews Call for Assad Departure

    President Barack Obama meets with Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani of Qatar in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington,  April 23, 2013.
    President Barack Obama meets with Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani of Qatar in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, April 23, 2013.
    President Barack Obama has renewed his determination to achieve a political transition in Syria, and the departure of President Bashar al-Assad.  The remarks, after talks with the visiting Emir of Qatar, came as the issue of Syrian chemical weapons remained high in the headlines.  

    President Obama said Syria was among issues that he and Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani discussed in their Oval Office talks.

    "We have been cooperating closely with Qatar and other countries in seeking to bring about an end to the slaughter that is taking place there, the removal of President Assad who has shown himself to have no regard for his own people and to strengthen an opposition that can bring about a democratic Syria that represents all people and respects their rights, regardless of their ethnicity or their religious affiliations," said Obama.

    Sitting with the Qatar leader,  Obama said he was pleased that in coming months the U.S. will be stepping up support for Syria's opposition forces, and "closely coordinating" strategies to bring about "a more peaceful resolution to the Syrian crisis."

    The U.S. recently announced another $123 million in non-lethal aid to the Syrian opposition coalition, a doubling of aid levels to $250 million.

    Obama did not respond to a reporter asking about what had been the main headline of the day  -  remarks by a senior Israeli intelligence official who said the Assad regime has used chemical weapons against rebel forces.

    Brigadier General Itai Brun, head of research and analysis for Israel's military intelligence,  said it was "our professional assessment" that chemical weapons had been used.  

    He called use of such weapons without any appropriate international reaction "a very worrying development" that might signal that the world views the action as legitimate.

    President Barack Obama has said on a number of occasions that any use or movement of chemical weapons would be a red line that President Bashar al-Assad should not cross, at one point calling it a "game changer."   

    Press Secretary Jay Carney said President. Obama continues to view any use of chemical weapons as unacceptable.   But Carney declined to engage in speculation about potential action the U.S. or allies might take.

    "All the more reason why we have to monitor very closely and take action to verify and validate credible claims of chemical weapons use," said Carney. "What I won't do is jump to the next step and say if claims are verified, what action will we take.  That is speculating, and I won't do that."

    Carney declined to say if Washington believes that Israel, along with France and Britain, have prematurely concluded that Syrian chemical weapons have been used.  He said the U.S. is being "extremely deliberate" in evaluating and attempting to verify these reports.

    In Brussels earlier, Secretary of State John Kerry said Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told him he was not in a position to confirm the statement about chemical weapons by the Israeli official.

    "I just think that the information I have at this point does not confirm it to me in a way that I would be comfortable in commenting on it as a fact," said Kerry. "But obviously whatever allegations are made have to be thoroughly investigated and it is appropriate to chase this one down and find out what is going on, no question about it."

    Press Secretary Jay Carney said the U.S. is using "a variety of methods," which he would not discuss for intelligence reasons, to assess reports and claims of Syrian government chemical weapons use.  

    He said Washington continues to support a United Nations investigation, one he said the Assad regime has blocked.

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