Obama signals no immediate strikes in Syria

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House in Washington, DC, Aug. 28, 2014.

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House in Washington, DC, Aug. 28, 2014.

U.S. President Barack Obama on Thursday signaled there would not be immediate U.S. military action in Syria against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, saying that Washington was still developing a strategy on tackling the conflict there.

“I don’t want to put the cart before the horse. We don’t have a strategy yet,” Obama told reporters at the White House, explaining that the United State did not “have to choose” between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Islamic State jihadist fighters.

He said Assad does not have the capability to get into Syrian areas controlled by the brutal militant group.

Obama said he has asked defense secretary Chuck Hagel to prepare a range of options on confronting ISIS.

The U.S. president also said that he asked Secretary of State John Kerry to travel to the Middle East to help build coalition against ISIS.

Obama spoke after meeting with hiss top national security advisers to discuss the challenge presented by ISIS militants and the situation in Iraq and Syria.

Senior White House aides met this week to discuss a strategy for expanding its assault on ISIS, including the possibility of air strikes on the militants’ stronghold in eastern Syria – an escalation that would almost certainly be riskier than the current U.S. campaign in Iraq.

While Iraq’s government welcomed the role of U.S. warplanes to attack the militants, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has warned that any strikes conducted without his country’s permission would be considered an act of aggression, potentially plunging any U.S.-led coalition into a broader conflict with Syria.

The government of UK Prime Minister David Cameron said it has not received a U.S. request for air strikes.

“This is not something under discussion at the moment,” a government spokeswoman said. “Our focus remains on supporting the Iraq government and Kurdish forces so that they can counter the threat posed by ISIL, for example with the visit of our security envoy to Iraq this week and the provision of supplies to Kurdish forces.”

A spokesman for Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said humanitarian aid in Iraq could continue but declined to say whether Australia would join U.S.-led military action.

“Our response to any request from the United States, or other close allies and partners, will be based on whether there is an achievable overall humanitarian purpose and a clear and proportionate role for Australia as well as on a careful assessment of the risks,” Abbott’s spokesman said.

U.S. officials hope the relative success of humanitarian aid and recent strikes on militant weapons in Iraq will diminish allied fears over supporting new military action.

“There’s been a proof of concept in Iraq that with a limited campaign you can do (things) against these guys,” one official said on condition of anonymity. “What we did already (has yielded) 25 to 30 nations offering to help,” the official added, referring to widespread international humanitarian aid.

Reluctant allies?

Among America’s possibly reluctant allies is France, which was left on a limb when Obama backed down from the threat of strikes on Syria following a major chemical attack a year ago.

“It was embarrassing for us,” a senior French diplomat said. “After what happened last year, now when the Americans decide to do something we will need some very strong guarantees before committing to anything.”

In a wide-ranging speech Thursday to international ambassadors, French President Francois Hollande said France would call an international conference to address the threat of ISIS militants and said a broad alliance was needed.

However, Hollande ruled out an international partnership with Syria’s leader to fight against ISIS, saying any alliance with Bashar al-Assad would play into the militants’ hands.

“But I want to make sure things are clear: Bashar Assad cannot be a partner in the fight against terrorism. He is a known ally of the jihadists. You cannot choose between two barbarities, because they feed on each other.”

The beheading of American photojournalist James Foley and news of a growing number of U.S. and European passport holders now fighting alongside ISIS add urgency to Washington’s concerns over the rise of the Al-Qaeda offshoot.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Obama would convene a United Nations Security Council meeting in September on the threat posed by radicalized residents of Western nations returning from fighting in Syria.

French officials are planning another conference next month that would bring together Western and Arab countries in an effort to better coordinate efforts against Islamic State.

“The objective is to get a comprehensive view of how to deal with [ISIS] both in Iraq and Syria. See what each country is willing to do and discuss what to do about Syria and Assad,” one diplomat said.

 
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