President Barack Obama is still reviewing options “not limited to the use of force” to respond to “a clear violation of international norms” in Syria, but he is not currently contemplating regime change, his top spokesman said Tuesday.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the president is continuing to consult international leaders and members of Congress. Carney also reiterated Tuesday that the Syrian regime was responsible for the use of chemical weapons “on a significant scale” on Aug. 21 outside Damascus and that the intelligence community has a “high degree of confidence” the Syrian government previously had used chemical weapons on a smaller scale. He said intelligence reports substantiating the White House’s claims would be declassified sometime this week. Though Carney said that no final decision has been made, he noted that the president “does not envision a situation in Syria that involves boots on the ground.”
He also made clear, despite being pushed on multiple occasions, that Obama is not currently pursuing a plan to oust Bashar al-Assad from power.
“We have made clear that it is our firm assessment that Syria has maintained control over this [weapons] stockpile. The deliberations that are taking place now, and the options that are being considered now by the president and his national security team ... are around the question of what is the appropriate response to this clear violation of international norms,” Carney said.
“We are very engaged in the process of pursuing a political resolution to this conflict. Syria’s future must be one without Assad in power, but that is a process that must take place through negotiation. ... What we are focused on this week is a response to a specific violation of international norms.”
Carney also ducked questions on the domestic perils of engaging militarily abroad and whether there was war fatigue after the substantial loss of blood and treasure in Iraq and Afghanistan. The spokesman said he would not speculate on hypothetical courses of action that had not yet been decided on.
On Monday, Secretary of State John Kerry delivered a statement that strongly suggested the administration would take some sort of action, and Carney said Tuesday the remarks were made at the president’s request.
“Make no mistake, President Obama believes there must be accountability for those who would use the world’s most heinous weapons against the world’s most vulnerable people,” Kerry told reporters. “Nothing today is more serious and nothing is receiving more serious scrutiny.”
Additionally, on Tuesday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told the BBC that U.S. warships were moving into place in the region near Syria.
Obama will travel next week to St. Petersburg for a G-20 meeting of top leaders, but Carney would not say whether the president would withhold a final decision or action until that time.