Obama and Syria: What happened to the ‘red line?’

US President Barack Obama and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan conduct a joint press conference in the Rose Garden of the White House on May 16,...
US President Barack Obama and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan conduct a joint press conference in the Rose Garden of the White House on May 16,...
Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

President Obama distanced himself from the “red line” he had previously drawn against the use of chemical weapons in Syria, saying there is “no magic formula” for stemming the bloodshed of the country’s two-year-old civil war, and ruling out unilateral U.S. action. Obama pledged to continue to bolster the opposition forces and provide humanitarian aid.

Obama called the crisis in Syria, which has killed more than 80,000 people and displaced more than one million, “an international problem.” He insisted that an international coalition move to stem the violence.

“It is very much my hope… to find a solution that brings peace to Syria, stabilizes the region, stabilizes those chemical weapons,” Obama said. “But it’s not going to be something that the United States does by itself.  And I don’t think anybody in the region, including the Prime Minister, would think that U.S. unilateral actions in and of themselves would bring about a better outcome inside of Syria.”

At the same time, the president noted, “I preserve the options of taking additional steps–both diplomatic and military–because those chemical weapons inside of Syria also threaten our security over the long term, as well as our allies and friends and neighbors.” U.S. intelligence confirmed “with varying degrees of confidence” in late April that chemical weapons had been used in Syria by the Assad regime. Since then, the president has continued to call for more supporting evidence.

Obama held a Thursday press conference with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey. Edorgan told reporters that information pertaining to chemical weapons had been shared between Turkey and the U.S. and others. “The U.N. Security Council, all the other relevant authorities, will also receive that information in the proper time so that more information is provided to the public,” Edorgan said.

As Syria’s neighbor to the north, Turkey has been pushing for intervention in the region. Turkey hosts at least 300,000 Syrian refugees, according to UNICEF–causing a significant financial burden to the nation.

President Obama reiterated a pledge to “shoulder the burden” alongside Turkey and other countries in the region by providing humanitarian aid.

Asked about a timetable for Assad’s ouster, which the president has publicly advocated, Obama said, “We would have preferred Assad go two years ago; last year; six months ago; two months ago…Assad lost legitimacy when he started firing on his own people and killing his own people… So the answer is the sooner the better.”

The United Nations passed a nonbinding resolution Wednesday calling on Assad to stop the bloodshed. Obama praised the resolution saying “what we have to do is apply steady international pressure.”

“I do think that the prospect of talks in Geneva involving the Russians and representatives about a serious political transition that all the parties can buy into may yield results,” Obama said Thursday.

Edorgan noted his upcoming trip to Gaza and the West Bank in June, saying, “I place a lot of significance on this visit in terms of peace in the Middle East, and this visit in no way means favoring one or the other. I’m hoping that that visit will contribute to unity in Palestine.”