United States President Barack Obama said Tuesday that his administration has evidence of chemical weapon use in Syria but remains hesitant to respond with the might of the US military until more details develop.
Last week the White House said that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was believed “with varying degrees of confidence” to have used chemical weapons and had “demonstrated a willingness to escalate its horrific use of violence” against the people of his country engaged in a two-year-old civil war. Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Pres. Obama upgraded his administration’s stance to say proof of chemical weapon use in Syria is concrete but cannot be directly tied to Pres. Assad’s regime at this time.
“What we now have is evidence that chemical weapons have been used inside of Syria, but we don’t know how they were used, when they were used [or] who used them,” said Obama.
The president made the remarks after White House Correspondents Association President Ed Henry asked, “Do you risk US credibility if you don’t take military action?” Obama spent several minutes responding by saying his administration has long opposed the actions of Pres. Assad and has been adamant with his requests for the leader to resign from office.
“I think it’s important to understand that for several years now what we’ve been seeing is a slowly unfolding disaster for the Syrian people. And this is not a situation which we’ve been simply bystanders to what’s been happening. My policy from the beginning has been that President Assad had lost credibility, that he attacked his own people, has killed his own people, unleashed a military against innocent civilians and that the only way to bring stability and peace to Syria is going to be for Assad to step down,” said Obama.
Assad’s regime, added Obama later during the presser, is “more concerned with staying in power than the wellbeing of its people.”
Pres. Obama continued that his administration has taken “a whole host of steps” to weaken the Assad regime, including directly strengthening the Syrian opposition, imposing sanctions on the country and appealing to the United Nations. Should the physiological proof of chemical weapon use link back to Assad, however, the White House and its allies remain willing to escalate their actions against the regime, said Obama.
“The use of chemical weapons would be a game changer. Not simply for the United States but for the international community,” he said Tuesday.
Before the US intervenes, however, the president said more information would have to directly tie Assad’s regime with the use of chemical weapons before he could escalate American efforts overseas.
“When I am making decisions about America’s national security and the potential for taking additional action in response to . . . chemical weapon use, I have to make sure I have the facts. That’s what the American people would expect. And if we end up rushing to judgment without hard effective evidence then we can find ourselves in a position where we can’t mobilize the international community to support what we do.”
“It is important for us to do this in a prudent way. And what I said to my team is we have to do everything that we can to investigate and establish with some certainty,” said Obama.
The president added that he had conversations with the US Department of Defense as early as last year about how to handle the Syrian issue should it intensify, but said, “I won’t go into details as to what those options would be.”