Skip to main content

Obama: 'Do not foresee scenario' of American boots on ground in Syria

By Chelsea J. Carter, CNN
updated 8:18 PM EDT, Sun May 5, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • "As a general rule, I don't rule things out as commander-in-chief," president says
  • Obama says he has discussed the issue with leaders in the region and they agree
  • He says there is evidence of chemical weapons use in Syria
  • "We don't know when, where or how they were used," the president says

(CNN) -- U.S. President Barack Obama does not foresee a scenario of "American boots on the ground in Syria," telling reporters Friday that it would not be good for the United States or for that county.

"As a general rule, I don't rule things out as commander-in-chief, because circumstances change," Obama said during a joint news conference with President Laura Chinchilla of Costa Rica, where the president stopped during a three-day visit to the region.

"Having said that, I do not foresee a scenario in which boots on the ground in Syria, American boots on the ground in Syria, would be good for America or be good for Syria."

Obama said he has consulted with leaders in the region who want to see stability return to Syria, and "they agree with that assessment."

Did Israel conduct airstrike on Syria?
Explosions rock Damascus
King: Arming rebels could help Al Qaeda
Syria's Orthodox Christians are worried

Even so, the president said that if the United States confirms the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government against its people, "that's a game changer for us."

He did not elaborate on what steps would be taken, repeating as he has said previously that the United States would wait until it has more details of evidence of chemical weapons use in Syria before making any decision on whether to alter strategy.

"We have evidence that chemical weapons have been used. We don't know when, where or how they were used," Obama said.

Obama's assessment was supported by Michael Oren, Israel's ambassador to the United States.

"This was a military assessment of intelligence; like all intelligence assessments, there's no absolute certitude," he told CNN's Jake Tapper on Friday. "Our assessment was confirmed by British, French and American sources. But it's true that the usage of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime or anybody in Syria is being closely monitored by our intelligence agency and continues to be discussed at the highest levels between the Israeli and U.S. governments."

But in recent days, the Pentagon has stepped up planning for potential military intervention in Syria, which would most likely include the use of fighter jets and cruise missiles, two administration officials who were not authorized to publicly discuss the matter told CNN.

For now, Obama said, the United States is continuing its investigation, and working with its Middle East and European allies.

The president's comments follow a number of claims in recent weeks that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons against its people in a more than two-year civil war. The United Nations estimates some 70,000 people have died in the fighting.

Syria had denied the use of chemical weapons, accusing the United States of manipulating evidence to pressure President Bashar al-Assad to step down.

Obama has been under fire by some in the United States, including Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, for not taking a tougher stance with Syria.

The president said the United States is "not waiting."

"We are not standing by," he said, adding that the United States has been the largest contributor of humanitarian aid and nonlethal aid to the opposition.

"We are actively engaged on a day-to-day basis to deal with this crisis to restore a Syria that is respectful of the rights and aspirations of the Syrian people."

In addition to Syria's possible use of chemical weapons against rebels, another concern is that parts of the government's stockpile of chemical weapons -- which analysts believe is one of the world's largest and includes sarin, mustard and VX gases -- could end up, if they haven't already, in others' hands.

CNN's Barbara Starr contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
Syrian crisis
updated 10:48 AM EDT, Tue September 9, 2014
As a 10-year-old, this boy first hit the headlines in 1982 when he saved his cat from a fire. This year, he was reported to be a suicide bomber.
updated 2:03 PM EDT, Fri September 5, 2014
Aqsa Mahmood,19, would listen to Coldplay and read Harry Potter books. Then this Glasgow girl became an ISIS bride.
updated 4:23 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
The little boy looks barely old enough to walk, let alone understand the dark world he's now inhabiting.
updated 12:22 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
ISIS has released video of the aftermath of a mass execution. Another video shows alleged captured Peshmerga soldiers.
updated 5:33 AM EDT, Sat August 30, 2014
The number of people who have fled Syria and registered as refugees amid the country's civil war will surpass 3 million Friday.
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Douglas McAuthur McCain, 33, grew up in the Minneapolis area, but died more than 6,000 miles away in Syria, fighting for ISIS.
updated 4:54 PM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
If the United States is serious about thoroughly defeating ISIS, it must, somehow, go through Syria.
updated 8:43 AM EDT, Thu June 26, 2014
Jihadists have kidnapped over 140 Kurdish boys to "brainwash" them. But a few boys made a daring escape.
updated 8:48 AM EDT, Thu June 26, 2014
Reports that Syrian warplanes carried out a cross-border attack on Iraqi towns is further evidence of the blurring of the two countries' borders.
updated 5:33 PM EDT, Tue June 24, 2014
CNN's Atika Shubert speaks to a father whose teenage son joined the Jihad movement in Syria.
updated 7:41 AM EDT, Mon June 23, 2014
At the start of Syria's civil unrest, Omar would rally against the government alongside his schoolmates, later taking to the streets in his hometown of Salqin.
updated 5:17 PM EDT, Mon June 23, 2014
Atika Shubert looks at the rise of European jihadists traveling to Syria and whether they soon could join ISIS in Iraq.
updated 10:53 AM EDT, Mon June 23, 2014
The final stockpile of Syria's chemical weapons has been shipped out of the country, according to the OPCW, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
updated 4:25 PM EDT, Wed June 25, 2014
The US isn't doing airstrikes in Iraq. Is there a vacuum for Syria and Iran to step in? CNN's Fareed Zakaria weighs in.
updated 4:04 AM EDT, Tue June 10, 2014
CNN's Nick Paton Walsh reports on Syrian rebels using underground explosions against the better-equipped regime.
updated 7:51 AM EDT, Mon June 9, 2014
CNN's Nick Paton Walsh returns to the besieged rebel areas of Aleppo, a pale skeleton of a city that has had the life bombed out of it.
updated 7:51 AM EDT, Mon June 2, 2014
Syria may be embroiled in a brutal three-year civil war, but that's not stopping the government from holding presidential elections.
updated 7:23 AM EDT, Tue June 3, 2014
CNN's Nick Paton Walsh meets an ISIS defector in hiding and gets a rare look into the group's recruitment process.
updated 12:10 PM EDT, Thu June 5, 2014
Over a thousand Syrian refugees have turned an abandoned shopping mall in Lebanon into makeshift living quarters.
updated 12:16 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
More than 100,000 people reportedly have been killed in Syria since a popular uprising in 2011 spiraled into a civil war.
ADVERTISEMENT