But Obama, whose top national security advisers met Thursday to review options for a response, including military action, also emphasized his desire to avoid “jumping into stuff that does not turn out well, gets us mired in very difficult situations” and may not comport with international law. He spoke during a CNN interview that aired Friday morning.
Among the options at Obama’s disposal are cruise-missile-armed U.S. naval assets currently in the Mediterranean. Speaking to reporters Friday during a trip to the Far East, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said that some of the options the Pentagon has prepared for Obama “requires positioning our forces, positioning our assets, to be able to carry [them] out,” the Associated Press reported.
Those options, including using cruise missiles to attack Syrian government bases or establishing a no-fly zone over parts of Syria, have been on the table for many months and have been publicly outlined by Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and others. As recently as this week, Dempsey — who defense officials said is meeting this weekend with regional defense chiefs from the Middle East in a long-scheduled conference — said that none of those actions was likely to achieve U.S. goals of a democratic and stable Syria, and indicated that his own recommendation to Obama was to continue the current policy of humanitarian aid and efforts to bolster the opposition.
The administration has been in close contact with allies and partners from Britain to Turkey. U.S. officials have repeatedly indicated they would seek an international mandate or, at the very least, closely coordinate with partners.
For the moment, no action has been authorized and all options remain on hold awaiting confirmation of what the administration has said appears to have been a major chemical weapons attack by the Syrian government against dug-in opposition forces in the Damascus suburbs.
U.S. intelligence officials, who in June concluded that the Syrian government had used small amounts of chemical weapons in previous attacks, discounted reports Friday that the United States had detected movement at chemical storage sites before the Wednesday attack. The officials said they were not prepared to confirm or discount the new allegations.
“Assessments of this type can take time to develop,” one official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.
Syria’s government has denied responsibility for any chemical attacks. Russia, its principal ally, has accused the opposition of staging Wednesday’s attack to discredit Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.