Entries in Syria (15)


White House Working Towards Response After Reported Syria Gassing

Joshua Roberts/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- In light of the reported chemical attack in Syria this week, the White House has been busy meeting and discussing possible responses to the alleged actions of President Bashar al-Assad's government.

While Syria is unlikely to grant the U.S. access to facts and evidence, the White House spent most of Friday working to fill in the gaps around the reports. The Syrian opposition has been helpful in providing evidence to the U.S. government.

A senior official told ABC News that the administration is "taking a look at options" that include missile strikes and providing arms to the rebels. With that said, sending American soldiers to Syria is not -- and will not be -- an option.

The official said that the meetings were different from past administration rhetoric, in that it is more urgent. The potential large death tolls could represent either a major escalation or proof that Assad has lost control of his country's chemical weapons.

While administration officials hope to have a decision in the near future, "there is no timeline."

The official told ABC News that whatever action the U.S. takes must serve to advance the U.S. strategy and goals in Syria and should take into consideration the potential consequences.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State John Kerry spent much of Friday making phone calls to a number of foreign representatives. In speaking with foreign ministers and secretaries from Europe and the Middle East, as well as representatives from the United Nations, the European Union and the Arab League, Kerry reiterated the United States' commitment to gather the pertinent facts surrounding the events of this past week.

A statement from a senior State Department official additionally expressed American "concern and outrage over the disturbing reports, photos and videos we have seen, which shock the conscience."

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Rubio: President’s Inaction Has Led to ‘Worst Possible Scenario’ in Syria

Joe Raedle/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- During an exclusive interview on ABC’s This Week, Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio criticized President Obama for not intervening sooner in Syria’s civil war, saying the inaction has led to the “worst possible scenario” in the war-torn country.

“It behooved us to kind of identify whether there was elements there within Syria fighting against Assad that we could work with, reasonable people that wouldn’t carry out human rights violations, and could be part of building a new Syria. We failed to do that. This president failed to do that,” Rubio told ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl.

“The fact that it’s taken this White House and this president so long to get a clear and concise policy on Syria has left us with the worst possible scenario right now,” Rubio added.

“So now your options are quite limited. Now the strongest groups fighting against Assad, unfortunately, are al Qaeda-linked elements. That doesn’t mean that they all are, but it certainly — this group has become the most organized, the best armed, the best equipped. Our options are now really narrower than they were a few months ago,” he said.

The United States will provide arms to Syrian rebels after determining this week that the Syrian regime used chemical weapons. President Obama has said the use of such weapons would cross a “red line.

More than 90,000 people have died in Syria since March of 2011 according to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, while the Obama administration estimates that 100 to 150 people have died from chemical weapons attacks in the country.

Rubio was also asked by Karl if he supported his own immigration bill, which he helped author with the “Gang of Eight” members in the Senate.

“Obviously I think it’s an excellent starting point and I think 95 — 96 percent of the bill is in perfect shape and ready to go,” Rubio said. “But there are elements that need to be improved,” citing the border security portion of the current bill.

The immigration bill currently in the Senate will need some Republican support in order to overcome a potential filibuster. Many in the GOP want to see the border security measures in the bill strengthened before they would consider supporting it.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Sarah Palin on U.S. Intervention in Syria: 'Let Allah Sort It Out'

Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin criticized the Obama administration’s decision to supply weapons to the rebels in the civil war in Syria on Saturday, arguing that the U.S. should “Let Allah sort it out” until there is a stronger leader in the White House.

“Militarily, where is our commander in chief? We’re talking now more new interventions. I say until we know what we’re doing, until we have a commander in chief who knows what he’s doing, well, let these radical Islamic countries who aren’t even respecting basic human rights, where both sides are slaughtering each other as they scream over an arbitrary red line, ‘Allahu Akbar,’ I say until we have someone who knows what they’re doing, I say let Allah sort it out,” Palin said at the Faith and Freedom Coalition Conference.

Earlier this week, the White House announced it confirmed that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime has used chemical weapons in the fight against its own people, and the Obama administration will provide more “direct support” to the Syrian opposition since the president’s “red line” has been crossed.

The White House said on Saturday that Obama discussed the civil war in Syria with European leaders in a teleconference Friday, and the issue is expected to dominate much of the conversation at the G-8 Summit in Northern Ireland next week.

Palin, speaking at the conclusion of the three-day Faith and Freedom Coalition Conference, also took a swipe at another speaker at the conservative forum, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who argued Friday that one of the reasons to support the Senate’s immigration reform plan is because “Immigrants are more fertile.”

“I think it’s kind of dangerous territory, territory to want to debate this whole one race’s fertility rate over another, and I say this from someone who’s kind of fertile herself,” Palin said. “I don’t think that’s where we want to go in deciding how will we incentivize the hardworking responsible families who want to live in the light, follow the law, become Americans, versus those whose very first act on our soil is to break the law? There are different ways that we can debate this.”

As she warned the conservative crowd of “tyranny” in government, Palin said that the recent scandals involving the Internal Revenue Service and the National Security Agency make the country feel “so Orwellian around here, you know, 1984.”

Calling Washington, D.C. “one hot mess,” Palin also doled out some advice to Congress, who she said should follow the lead of a young senator whom she backed in his 2012 race — Texas. Sen. Ted Cruz.

“You know what I wish Congress would do? If they would just for one week perhaps, put themselves on Cruz control, on Ted Cruz control,” Palin said. “Just for a week and let’s see where things go. I think we’d see some solutions.”

Though she has often served as the butt of jokes on NBC’s Saturday Night Live, Palin joked about the frequency with which the comedy show makes fun of her, saying she’s provided an ample amount of jokes and jobs for comedians.

“They should think of me as a friend. For a while there, I was providing more job security for the Tina Feys of the world and doing more for those employment numbers than Obama’s ever done,” Palin said.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Leaders Debate Effectiveness of No-Fly Zone in Syria

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The announcement that President Obama is planning to step up aid to the Syrian rebels, including sending small weapons and ammunition, is a significant change in the administration's policy on Syria.

But with 90,000 people already killed, a refugee crisis being called the worst in the world, and evidence of Iran and Hezbollah's growing involvement in the crisis, critics question whether the move will be enough to make a difference on the ground.

On Thursday, Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham, two of the most outspoken critics of the Obama administration's Syria policy, applauded the decision to provide arms, but called for the U.S. to go further and establish a no-fly zone

"The goal is to end the war. And the only way this war is going to end quickly and on our terms is to neutralize the air assets that Assad enjoys," Graham said on the Senate floor. "We can crater the runways. There are four air bases he uses. We can stop the planes from flying. We can shoot planes down without having one boot on the ground."

McCain and Graham are not the only ones calling for a no-fly zone. Some of America's allies in the region, including Turkey, also have said they would support the action as way to help strengthen the opposition's position on the ground and allow more humanitarian aid to get through.

But the administration maintains a no-fly zone is not the easy solution some are claiming.

"People need to understand that the no-fly zone is not some type of silver bullet that is going to stop a very intense and, in some respect, sectarian conflict, that it's taking place on the ground," National Security Advisor Spokesman Ben Rhodes told reporters on Friday.

So what exactly is a no-fly zone?

A no-fly zone is just what the name indicates; it's an action that stops planes, usually military, from flying in the skies of a designated area. The idea is to keep the military from a rogue nation from using its air power to attack other areas in its own territory or beyond.

No-fly zones are usually authorized by international bodies, like the United Nations or NATO, and the air forces of participating countries are authorized to a nation's air capabilities. They can disable runways at air bases, striking at air defense systems and possibly going as far as shooting down any military aircraft violating the no-fly zone.

The effectiveness of the ban hinges on enforcement, as was the case in Libya, where NATO enforced a no-fly zone though it was the U.S. that bore the brunt of the operations.

It was considered a success that gave the opposition the space and time to take control of the country and overthrow Moammar Gadhafi's regime.

Many critics of the administration's Syria policy have questioned why President Obama is so reluctant to push for a no-fly zone in Syria, as well.

The administration has said Syria is very different from Libya.

"It's dramatically more difficult and dangerous and costly in Syria for a variety of reasons," said Rhodes. "In Libya, you already had a situation where the opposition controlled huge portions of the country and you could essentially protect those portions of the country from the air. You do not have the same types of air defense systems that exist within Syria."

Experts say that Syria's air force is more capable than Libya's and, more importantly, has a complex air defense system that could target military aircraft enforcing a no-fly zone. But that doesn't necessarily preclude putting elements of a no-fly zone in place.

"A no-fly zone is not a monolithic thing," Joseph Holliday, a fellow at the Institute for the Study of War who focuses on the Syria crisis, said at a United States Institute for Peace event last month.

Holliday said that there is a "spectrum" of military options within a no-fly zone, from a full-scale air campaign to finding other creative ways to restrict the Syrian air force's capability. Still, Holliday, who tracks Syria's military capability, warned that the Assad regime seems to be keeping some military fighter jets in reserve specifically to deal with any possible foreign threat.

The Syrian Air Force is "not on its way out," said Holliday, who added that Syria retains "one of the densest air-defense systems in the world."

Administration officials have also questioned whether a no-fly zone would be an effective way to help the opposition defeat Assad and stop the slaughter of civilians.

"In Syria, when you have a situation where regime forces are intermingled with opposition forces and they're fighting, in some instances, block-by-block in cities, that's not a problem you can solve from the air," said Rhodes.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey told reporters in April that he doubted a no-fly zone could be effective in limiting civilian casualties

"About 10 percent of the casualties that are being imposed on the Syrian opposition are occurring through the use of air power," said Dempsey, who noted that the remaining 90 percent are by direct fire or by artillery. "So, the question then becomes: If you eliminate one capability of a potential adversary, will you be inclined to find yourself in a position to be asked to do more against the rest?"

Dempsey said the United States needs to be careful not to get drawn deeper into the conflict without having clear military objectives. If a no-fly zone was ordered, Dempsey said, the Pentagon would have to factor in the need to knock out Syrian air defenses and develop a search-and-rescue plan for any U.S. fighter pilots that could be downed. Military planners also would have to consider the prospect that Syria might launch retaliatory attacks both within Syria and beyond.

"Now, none of these reasons are reasons not to take action," Dempsey said. "But they all should be considered before we take that first step."

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Obama Ramps Up Support for Syrian Opposition

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama has directed his national security team to identify ways to significantly increase U.S. support of the opposition forces battling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Among the options under consideration is supplying arms to rebel forces, although no decision on that has been made.

The first step will likely be a dramatic expansion of non-lethal aid to opposition fighters.

“The items to be supplied will be decided after consultations with the Supreme Military Command,” National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said. "Additional communications equipment, armor, night-vision goggles and vehicles are among the items being discussed.”

Hayden also suggested aid to the rebels could go beyond such non-lethal assistance.

“We continue to consider all other possible options that would accomplish our objective of hastening a political transition,” she said.

The aid is intended to tilt the balance in favor of the rebels and hasten the fall of the Assad regime. It is not a direct response to chemical weapons evidence, but a recognition that the situation in Syria has gotten worse and the only real solution is for Assad to be ousted.

Secretary of State John Kerry announced last week that the United States would be doubling aid to the opposition, bringing the total U.S. aid to $250 million, including non-lethal supplies to the opposition’s military wing.

Beyond that, senior administration sources say, the White House is actively considering supplying the rebels with arms. This is a move Obama has resisted for fears that the weapons could fall into the wrong hands.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Obama Supports Syrian Opposition, But Singles Out Terrorist Group

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) -- The choice to label a Syrian rebel group as a terrorist organization while simultaneously recognizing the Syrian opposition as the country’s legitimate government is not a coincidence, President Obama said Tuesday.

In an exclusive interview with ABC’s Barbara Walters, the president said that while he stands with Syria’s Opposition Coalition, there is no place for extremist groups like the rebel al-Nusrah Front.

“Not everybody who’s participating on the ground in fighting Assad are people who we are comfortable with,” Obama told Walters. “There are some who, I think, have adopted an extremist agenda, an anti-U.S. agenda. And we are going to make clear to distinguish between those elements.”   

On Tuesday State Department Spokesperson Victoria Nuland detailed the organization’s crimes in a statement announcing the terror designation and sanctions on the group.

In a background briefing with reporters, senior Obama administration officials stressed that the designation of al-Nusrah is not a reflection of the administration’s policy on Syria’s opposition, which the U.S. is expected to recognize following this week’s Friends of Syria meeting in Morocco.  

The official added that the administration supports the Free Syrian Army, which is much larger and has a broader coalition of opposition groups.

Experts and officials say the strength and numbers of extremist groups in Syria have grown as the conflict has dragged on. A year ago, al-Nusrah carried out the first suicide bombing, and dozens have followed. Videos of executions have surfaced online, notably several weeks ago when pleading Syrian soldiers were piled onto the floor and shot. Administration officials did acknowledge they are concerned about the increasing influence radical Islamists are having on Syria’s opposition movement.

In practical terms, the designation means that Syrian opposition leaders will not be able to work with al-Nusrah and still receive U.S. support. The administration’s announcement also served to “out” the group to Syrians who may be sympathetic, said the officials.   

“It means that as al-Nusrah Front tries to wrap itself in the legitimacy of the opposition that does reflect the Syrian’s people desires, we have called them out, and for those who are seeking to support the legitimate opposition of the Syrian people, we have drawn a bright line,” said one official.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


ABC News EXCLUSIVE: Obama Recognizes Syrian Opposition Group

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) -- In a diplomatic shift, President Obama said Tuesday his administration now formally recognizes the newly-formed, leading coalition of Syrian rebels who are fighting to topple Syria's embattled President Bashar Assad.

"We've made a decision that the Syrian Opposition Coalition is now inclusive enough, is reflective and representative enough of the Syrian population that we consider them the legitimate representative of the Syrian people in opposition to the Assad regime," Obama said.

The announcement, made during an exclusive interview with ABC News' Barbara Walters, grants new legitimacy to the rebel group and marks a new phase in U.S. efforts to isolate the Assad regime.

"It's a big step," Obama said of the decision. The United States follows Britain and the European Union, both of which last month recognized the Syrian opposition group.

More of Barbara Walters' exclusive first joint, post-election interview with President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama airs Friday, Dec. 14, on 20/20 at 10 p.m. ET on ABC stations.

The diplomatic designation will allow the United States to more closely support rebel efforts, including the organization of a future post-Assad government, administration officials said.

"Obviously, with that recognition comes responsibilities," Obama said of the young coalition. "To make sure that they organize themselves effectively, that they are representative of all the parties, [and] that they commit themselves to a political transition that respects women's rights and minority rights."

The move does not include the provision of weapons, but it opens the door for that possibility in the future.

"Providing arms has to be done in a way that helps promote a political solution," one senior Obama administration official said Tuesday. "And until we understand how these arms promote a political solution, we do not see how provision of arms is a good idea."

But the official added, "the president has never ruled out in the future providing arms."

Obama expressed caution Tuesday about some Syrian factions involved with the coalition, warning that the United States will not support extremist elements.

"Not everybody who's participating on the ground in fighting Assad are people who we are comfortable with," Obama told Walters. "There are some who, I think, have adopted an extremist agenda, an anti-U.S. agenda, and we are going to make clear to distinguish between those elements."

The president specifically singled out the group Jabhat al-Nusrah for its alleged affiliation with al Qaeda in Iraq. The State Department says the jihadist group is responsible for nearly 600 violent attacks in major Syrian cities in the past year.

"Through these attacks, al-Nusrah has sought to portray itself as part of the legitimate Syrian opposition while it is, in fact, an attempt by [al Qaeda in Iraq] to hijack the struggles of the Syrian people for its own malign purposes," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.

The Obama administration blacklisted al-Nusrah earlier this week, imposing economic sanctions and branding it a terrorist organization.

Recognition of the Syrian rebel group has been expected. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was to formally announce the new relations with the United States during a meeting of international allies supporting Syria's rebels in Marrakech, Morocco, on Wednesday.

She has since cancelled her trip because of an illness. Her deputy, Bill Burns, will attend in her place.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Romney Says US Needs to Match Iran’s Influence in Syria

J.D. Pooley/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Mitt Romney said Tuesday night he was prepared to work with Saudi Arabia and Turkey to facilitate the delivery of weapons to “moderate voices” within the Syrian resistance as a means of combating Iran’s “major role” in supporting Bashar al-Assad's government forces.

Turkey has already exchanged artillery fire with the Syrians.  Romney told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer the U.S. “must also be playing a role to help shape what’s happening there.”

This is the second time in less than 48 hours the Republican presidential nominee has called for a more direct intervention in Syria’s civil war.

On Monday at the Virginia Military Institute, Romney warned of ”the rising influence of Iran” in the region and suggested the U.S. should act more openly to arm rebels “who share our values” to help in their fight against Syrian “tanks, helicopters, and fighter jets.”

“We should be working no less vigorously with our international partners to support the many Syrians who would deliver that defeat to Iran -- rather than sitting on the sidelines,” he said.

Romney also doubled-down on a seemingly subtle bit of language that could push up the timeline for confrontation with Iran over its nuclear program.

As during his address at the Virginia Military Institute, Romney on Tuesday asserted that Tehran must be deterred from acquiring the “capability” to build nuclear weapons.

“Preventing Iranian nuclear weapons capability rather than assembled weapons means the Romney position is tougher, requiring stopping the slide toward those aims by Iran from continuing,” former U.S. ambassador Mark Lagon, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said after Monday's speech.  “Romney is clearly less disturbed by the prospect of any Israeli strike on Iran than [President Obama.]”

As recently as Sept. 14, during an interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos, Romney said his “red line is Iran may not have a nuclear weapon.”

On Tuesday night, the candidate did offer a more conciliatory tone, asking viewers to “recognize that we have a long way to go before military action may be necessary.  And hopefully it’s never necessary.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


White House Mum on Covert Aid to Syria Rebels

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) -- The White House announced today it has pledged an additional $12 million in humanitarian aid to civilians affected by the ongoing violence in Syria.

Food, water, medical kits and other supplies bring the total U.S. assistance to that country to $76 million, partly distributed through the World Food Program, International Red Cross, and other organizations.

In a written statement, the administration praised Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey for providing additional relief or hosting refugees from the conflict, which the United Nations reports has displaced over a million. Over 130,000 have fled to neighboring states.

The U.N. has asked for $180 million in international assistance for the country.

The announcement does not address yesterday's report that President Obama had signed a secret order broadly authorizing the CIA and other agencies to provide support to rebels against the Bashar Assad regime. While the precise date of the order is undetermined, it comes on the heels of observations of marked improvement in effectiveness from the armed opposition in recent weeks.

The exact nature of the covert assistance is unknown, but it appears to stop short of providing actual armaments. On Wednesday the State Department acknowledged $25 million had been set aside for "non lethal" assistance to the fighters, such as communications equipment.

The Obama administration has declined to comment on the report, but today Press Secretary Jay Carney continued its prior stance against further arming Assad's opposition.

"We don't believe that adding to the number of weapons in Syria will do anything to help bring about a peaceful transition," he said.

It has not stopped the import of weapons from Saudi Arabia, Turkey or Qatar.

Kofi Annan formally announced Thursday that he would step down as special envoy to Syria at the end of the month. Carney praised Annan's for his service in the country, but said his efforts were disrupted by the break of international unity against Assad.    

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


A Massacre in Syria Brings Foreign Affairs Into the Race, Briefly

Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Alex Wong/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Unemployment, the "war on women," immigration, gay marriage. ... Who has time for Syria?

Foreign policy has crept back into presidential politics, but it won't be here for long, so soak it up while you can. In the past few days, President Obama and Mitt Romney have jousted -- lightly -- over U.S. policy toward Syria, where a dictator is murdering scores of innocent people.

Obama says the dictator, Bashar al-Assad, has to step down, but Obama won't give weapons to the Syrian opposition. Romney says Assad should step down, and he wants to give weapons to the rebels.

That's about the only substantial difference in policy for the two candidates, and the small debate has probably received all the media attention it's going to, because, as CNN's John King mentioned at a GOP primary debate, "The American people don't often pay attention to what's going on in the world until they have to."

Why should voters care about the chaos in Syria?

Edward Djerejian, a former ambassador to Syria, says: "If Syria devolves into a civil and sectarian war, it will destabilize the Middle East. ... It will have an immediate impact affecting the national security interests of key neighbors -- Lebanon, Iraq, Turkey, Israel, Jordan."

And, of course, it could raise gas prices -- only because any major destabilizing effect in the Middle East will drive up the cost of oil.

That message hasn't really sunk in yet with the general public, and the candidates themselves haven't been debating this aggressively, just in statements on paper. They've spent most of their time this week fencing about jobs policy, Bain Capital and Solyndra.

It could be the case that the 2012 race, the first big election after the "Arab spring" and the killing of Osama bin Laden, pushes foreign policy to the margins of discourse.

Obama doesn't want a doctrine, some sort of all-inclusive guideline that says when the United States should intervene in a troubled country and when it must stay away.

The White House got involved in Libya, but won't in Syria. Syria is smaller, close to its ally, Iran, and could rekindle memories of the anguishing war in Iraq, which is right next door.

In March 2011, Obama explained his rationale for fighting Muammar Qadhafi in a big speech:

"It's true that America cannot use our military wherever repression occurs," he said. "And given the costs and risks of intervention, we must always measure our interests against the need for action. But that cannot be an argument for never acting on behalf of what's right. In this particular country, Libya, at this particular moment, we were faced with the prospect of violence on a horrific scale. We had a unique ability to stop that violence: an international mandate for action, a broad coalition prepared to join us, the support of Arab countries and a plea for help from the Libyan people themselves. We also had the ability to stop Qadhafi's forces in their tracks without putting American troops on the ground. To brush aside America's responsibility as a leader and, more profoundly, our responsibilities to our fellow human beings under such circumstances, would have been a betrayal of who we are. Some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries. The United States of America is d
ifferent. And as president, I refused to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action."

No doubt there are probably Syrians wondering how many more reports of slaughtered civilians need to make their way to Obama's desk before he steps into affairs in Damascus.

"This can rapidly flip out of everyone's control -- events on the ground, and humanitarian disasters that we're seeing on the YouTubes and everything," Djerejian said.

Romney recently gave Obama an "F" on his foreign policy report card, and conventional political strategy would dictate that he's probably opposing the president on Syria because he doesn't want to appear hypocritical by agreeing with him after criticizing his entire foreign affairs agenda. Romney has blamed Obama's "lack of leadership" for allowing the massacre in Syria, and said that the United States and its allies should "arm the opposition so they can defend themselves."

"I don't really see any strategic value in the United States arming anybody," said Jim Carafano, the director of the conservative Heritage Foundation's Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies. "Let's be honest. It's irrelevant. ... Who knows what Syria's going to look like six months from now?"

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio