President Barack Obama said Tuesday that unilateral military action by the United States against the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would be a mistake. He made the comments Obama’s first news conference of the year also addressed Iran, Afghanistan, immigration and the U.S. economy.
The president again resisted calls for sending U.S. troops to stop Assad’s crackdown in Syria, in which 7,500 people have been killed.
“For us to take military action unilaterally, as some have suggested, or to think that somehow there is some simple solution, I think is a mistake,” Obama said.
Obama said the situation is more complicated than the one in Libya, where NATO troops helped to protect anti-government forces against a crackdown by that country’s leader, Moammar Gadhafi.
The president has used economic sanctions and diplomacy to pressure Assad to step down.
President Obama also defended his use of sanctions to press Iran’s government to give up what the international community says is its pursuit of nuclear weapons.
“Iran is feeling the bite of these sanctions in a substantial way. The world is unified. Iran is politically isolated,” Obama said.
Obama said there is a “window of opportunity,” in which the dispute with Iran can still be solved diplomatically. Tehran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.
President Obama accused his Republican Party political opponents of “beating the drums of war,” for criticizing his emphasis on diplomacy.
“Those folks do not have a lot of responsibilities. They are not commander in chief. When I see the casualness with which some of these folks talk about war, I am reminded of the costs involved in war,” Obama said.
The president said Iran needs to return to negotiations and discuss ways to prove that the intentions of its nuclear program are peaceful.
On Afghanistan, Obama said preparations continue for the transition of security responsibilities from NATO to Afghan forces in 2014. The president said he is concerned about the accidental burning of copies of the Quran by U.S. and allied forces. He noted that the resulting violence against Americans is unacceptable.
“I think that it is an indication of the challenges in that environment, and it is an indication that now is the time for us to transition,” Obama said.
Obama addressed a question about U.S. immigration, saying that if he is reelected, he will propose legislation to reform the nation's immigration system.
And he responded to a question about rising oil prices by asking the reporter whether he believes the president would want gasoline prices to rise during an election year.