News / Middle East

Obama Weighing Options on Syria

President Barack Obama at Lackawanna College in Scranton, Pennsylvania, Aug. 23, 2013.
President Barack Obama at Lackawanna College in Scranton, Pennsylvania, Aug. 23, 2013.
Kent Klein
Russia and China are joining international calls for an investigation into an alleged poison gas attack in a suburb of Syria's capital, as U.S. President Barack Obama said the reported incident is of "grave concern."

Russia's foreign ministry Friday said claims by Syria's opposition that hundreds died in a poisonous gas attack this week should undergo an objective investigation and it called on Syria to cooperate.

Moscow also called on rebel forces to guarantee safe passage for United Nations investigators who are already in the country looking into previous allegations of chemical use. The ministry released the statement following a call between Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

China's foreign ministry Friday also backed calls for a U.N. investigation, with a spokesman telling the state-run Xinhua news agency that China "resolutely opposes" the use of chemical weapons no matter which side is responsible.

The United States has been pushing for a U.N.-led investigation.  Obama told CNN that officials are still gathering information but called the reported attack a matter of "grave concern."

Obama also acknowledged many people around the world are looking to the U.S. to take action.  But he said, "the notion that the U.S. can somehow solve what is a sectarian, complex problem inside of Syria sometimes is overstated."
President Barack Obama says Syria’s alleged use of chemical weapons against its own people has accelerated his process of deciding on a U.S. response.  The president faces a narrow range of options.
 
In an interview Thursday with CNN, the president described the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government as a big event of grave concern.  

“We are still gathering information about this particular event, but it is very troublesome," said President Obama.

Obama said the situation requires the attention of the United States and the international community.

But he said the U.S. needs to “think through” its response, warning that “jumping into stuff…does not turn out well.”

“We have to think through strategically what is going to be in our long-term national interest," said Obama.

Obama said he would seek international support before taking major action.

  • Activists wear gas masks as they look for dead bodies and collect samples to check for chemical weapon use in Zamalka, Damascus, August 22, 2013.
  • An activist wearing a gas mask stands next to a dead dog as he looks for bodies to collect samples to check for chemical weapon use, in Zamalka, Damascus, August 22, 2013.
  • Syrian activists inspect the bodies of people they say were killed by toxic gas near Damascus, August 21, 2013.
  • A man sits in a hospital near two children who activists say were affected by toxic gas near Damascus, August 21, 2013.
  • People, affected by what activists say is toxic gas, are treated at a hospital in the Duma neighborhood of Damascus August 21, 2013.
  • A youth, affected by what activists say is toxic gas, is treated at a hospital near Damascus, August 21, 2013.
  • A Syrian military soldier holds his Ak-47 with a sticker of Syrian President Bashar Assad and Arabic that reads, "Syria is fine," as he stands guard at a check point on Baghdad street, in Damascus, August 21, 2013.
  • A Syrian military soldier checks the trunk of a car at a check point on Baghdad street, in Damascus, August 21, 2013.

The president has been criticized for not acting more decisively after saying that Syria’s use of chemical weapons would cross a “red line.”

Obama recently pledged U.S. aid to Syrian opposition groups, but has not sent much assistance so far.

Leila Hilal, director of the Middle East Task Force at Washington’s New America Foundation, says backing the opposition could be helpful in fighting the government.  But she says that would do nothing to stop the use of chemical weapons.

Hilal says another military option would be to launch missile strikes from outside Syria.  She says that, too, carries risks.

“While you can hit chemical deposits and factories and storage units, the question is whether or not that would end up hurting more than helping, given the potential for civilian casualties," said Hilal.

Hilal says the best of the few options available may be to rekindle prospects for a political solution.  She believes Syria’s supporters, such as Iran, could be helpful in moving the government toward negotiations.

“The Assad regime clearly sees an advantage in continuing to fight on the ground, and it is not thinking right now that there is an advantage to a political process.  But that does not mean that the people supporting him do not think that there could be an advantage to a political process," she said.

Russia, which backs the Assad government, joined the United Nations Friday in urging Syria to grant access to U.N. inspectors.

The Syrian government denies that it has used chemical weapons.

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by: ali baba from: new york
August 23, 2013 9:22 PM
US should not get involved in SYRAIAN conflict .even a chemical weapons had been used. united state is not a police man to discipline the criminal of the world. we went to IRAQ and it was a disaster. we went to Afghanistan and it was a disaster. Us should focus on alternative energy. rather than of killing our children and go in the middle of fanatic whom they do not like us
In Response

by: Tiki Taka from: California
August 26, 2013 12:59 AM
I agree with you Ali Baba. The rest of the world do not like us even the Europeans where the living standard is same as us. U.S has many problems. We need money for our own problems. I wonder why the Middle East countries do not have any actions to protect their brothers. Come on, we came to Afghanistan, Iraq and now what. What we get?

by: Jackel from: Asia
August 23, 2013 3:58 PM
Initial reports coming in indicate it was nerve agents delivered via rockets and/or missiles in an area that has been very difficult for Assad to obtain control in. If Assad is responsible let Russia and China sit on the fence like they have been doing. The rest of the world will do what needs to be done. Iran, Russia, and China need to be held accountable if in fact is was Assad who did the attack.

by: Jackel from: PartsUnknown
August 23, 2013 3:50 PM
It does not matter who delivered the chemical weapons attack. The bottom line is whoever did it needs to be taken down ASAP. If is terrorists then the major countries need formulate a military response. If it is Assad and his regime, they need be taken out and put in front of the World Court to face death themselves. If it winds up being Assad, Russia and China need to be held accountable as they have been the ones blocking any form of action against Assad. The truth will be known. Weapons experts can obtain a footprint on the type of chemicals and where they originated from.
In Response

by: rangerrebew from: USA
August 26, 2013 5:35 AM
Saddam was "rumored" to have a stash of weapons exactly like the ones described by Jackel from: Asia and was also "rumored" to have sent them to Syria. It couldn't be, could it, these are the weapons of mass destruction Saddam "didn't have?"

by: Igor from: Russia
August 23, 2013 12:13 PM
An objective investigation is needed because there is no need for Syrian Government to launch a chemical strike against the rebels: First, The Syrian troops are gaining ground and the rebels are losing. Second, Syrianvernment does not want to create a pretext for Western involvement in Syria. Thirdly, Syrian government is not stupid enough to lauch such an attack while the UN inspectors are in Syria. So the terrorists must have launched the attack and then blamed Syrian government for it!
In Response

by: Jackel from: Asia
August 23, 2013 4:02 PM
Godwin, if you had been keeping up with the press releases you would know that the area in which the attack took place was an area that has been very difficult for Assad to control. Hence a potential reason why he used the nerve gas as reported. Initial analysis point to nerve gas agent delivered via rockets and/or missiles by the Syrian regime. You do know that Assad's father was a ruthless dictator who is responsible for killing millions in the years he was in power?
In Response

by: Godwin from: Nigeria
August 23, 2013 1:34 PM
Igor, this is more like it. There are also other issues surrounding the attack that negate reality. Investigators should look in very seriously to find the motive for the attack, and there is the perpetrator going to be found. Terrorists are capable of any kind of action to attract sympathy and support. It would have been a stupid timing for Assad and his group.

by: david lulasa from: tambua,gimarakwa,hamisi,v
August 23, 2013 8:54 AM
why has russia and its friends been living such a wicked life of choosing not to co-operate with UN when its the right time to do so?..there is no doubt that these are the traits of axis of evil..assad should just die even if its peacefully,big change will have occured.
)

by: Anonymous
August 23, 2013 7:20 AM
hey, who cares what Russia says...???

by: rangerrebew from: U.S.
August 23, 2013 7:16 AM
By "objective" investigation does Kerry mean like the ones on Fast & Furious, the IRS, NSA spying, or Benghazi? He says the words but his boss isn't for it as it would compromise (in his mind) the love muslims have for him.

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