“I have no interest in any kind of open-ended conflict in Syria,” Obama said in an interview with the PBS NewsHour, stressing that he has not decided to order a military attack.
“But we do have to make sure that when countries break international norms on chemical weapons they are held accountable,” he said.
A closed-door meeting of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, called to consider a British-drafted resolution authorizing the use of force to prevent any further use of chemical weapons in Syria, adjourned without action after Russia and China opposed the measure.
In response, U.S. officials made clear they considered such initiatives irrelevant to Obama’s decision on military action. Although officials gave no indication of when a U.S. attack might occur, they said they expect U.N. inspectors to leave Syria on Saturday.
“We see no avenue forward [at the United Nations] given continued Russian opposition to any meaningful Council action on Syria,” deputy State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said. “Therefore, the United States will continue its consultations and will take appropriate actions to respond in the days ahead.”
The U.S. dismissal seemed to put the administration and its allies at odds with the U.N. leadership. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, without setting a deadline or addressing the Syrian request for an extension, said it was “essential to establish the facts” and the U.N. team “needs time to do its job.”
Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N. special envoy for Syria, said international law requires a Security Council decision before any military action. “I do know that President Obama and the American administration are not known to be trigger-happy,” Brahimi said at a Geneva news conference. “What they will decide, I don’t know.”
Administration officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, have said that any attack would be of limited scope and duration and would likely target military installations. The Defense Department has positioned warships armed with cruise missiles in the Mediterranean, and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has said the military is “ready to go” should Obama give the order.
Russia and Iran, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s principal outside backers throughout the civil war that began more than two years ago, have warned of what Moscow has called the “catastrophic consequences” of military intervention.
France, which holds the fifth permanent U.N. Security Council seat, said this week that Assad should be “punished” for the chemical weapons attack.