National Security Brief: Obama Remains Cautious On Syria After Reports Of More Chem Weapons


President Obama said in an interview with CNN that aired on Friday that the allegations of the latest incident of chemical weapons use in Syria are “very troublesome,” adding that the U.S. is working with the international community to gather information about what took place.

Syrian opposition activists claimed this week that President Bashar al-Assad’s forces launched another deadly chemical weapons attack just outside of Damascus in rebel held territory that left scores dead, including women and children.

“What we’ve seen indicates clearly this is a big event, of grave concern,” Obama said. While the president said the situation is “going to require American attention,” he stopped short of calling for any military response and instead, echoed Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey’s belief that military power alone won’t solve Syria’s crisis. “What I do believe is that although the situation in Syria is very difficult and the notion that the U.S. can somehow solve what is a sectarian complex problem inside of Syria, sometimes it is overstated,” Obama said.

However, Obama did say that U.S. interests were at stake. “That starts getting to some core national interests that the United States has both in terms of us making sure that weapons of mass destruction are not proliferating, as well as needing to protect our allies, our bases in the region,” he said.

The issue of whether the U.S. should response forcefully to the Syrian government’s alleged use of chemical weapons has divided senior members of the Obama administration, reports the New York Times. Obama’s national security team met for nearly four hours on Thursday to debate the issue and “the meeting broke up without any decision…amid signs of a deepening division between those who advocate sending Mr. Assad a harsh message and those who argue that military action now would be reckless and ill timed.”

Foreign Policy reported on Thursday that those Obama administration officials pushing for more involvement may have some unexpected allies in Congress as some lawmakers previously opposed to military action in Syria may be changing their minds.

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reports that the U.S. “began refining its military options for possible strikes in Syria.”

“Officers at the Pentagon on Thursday were updating target lists for possible airstrikes on a range of Syrian government and military installations, officials said, as part of contingency planning should President Barack Obama decide to act after what experts said may be the worst chemical-weapons massacre in more than two decades,” the Journal reports.

In other news:

  • Reuters reports: Britain runs a secret monitoring station in the Middle East to intercept large numbers of telephone calls, emails and internet traffic that it shares with intelligence agencies in the United States, the Independent newspaper reported on Friday.
  • Los Angeles Times reports: As supporters cheered former President Hosni Mubarak’s release from prison, Egypt’s military-backed government pressed ahead with its crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, taking steps to ban religious movements from forming political parties and weaken the influence of Islamic law on the constitution.
  • The New York Times reports: Iran has paved over large swaths of a restricted military base that United Nations nuclear inspectors have sought unsuccessfully to visit for years because they suspect it was once a laboratory for testing weapons triggers, an antiproliferation monitoring group said Thursday in a study of new satellite imagery, suggesting the Iranians had tried to sanitize the site.
  • Reuters reports: Yemen has asked the United States to supply it with drones, President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi said on Thursday, to help it fight an al Qaeda threat that recently forced Western countries to temporarily close diplomatic missions in Sanaa.