Obama wrestles with US role in Syria

‘FATAL’ MISTAKE’::Russia’s prime minister said al-Assad had made a ‘grave error’ by delaying political reforms and that his chances of staying in power were shrinking

AFP, Washington, DAMASCUS and BEIRUT

Tue, Jan 29, 2013 - Page 7

US President Barack Obama said in an interview published yesterday that he was wrestling with a decision on whether the US should get involved to resolve the conflict in Syria.

“In a situation like Syria, I have to ask, can we make a difference in that situation?” he said in an interview with the New Republic magazine.

“Would a military intervention have an impact? How would it affect our ability to support troops who are still in Afghanistan? What would be the aftermath of our involvement on the ground? Could it trigger even worse violence or the use of chemical weapons? What offers the best prospect of a stable post-[Syrian President Bashar al-]Assad regime? And how do I weigh tens of thousands who’ve been killed in Syria versus the tens of thousands who are currently being killed in the [Democratic Republic of the] Congo?” he asked.

“And what I have to constantly wrestle with is where and when can the United States intervene or act in ways that advance our national interest, advance our security, and speak to our highest ideals and sense of common humanity,” Obama said.

“And as I wrestle with those decisions, I am more mindful probably than most of not only our incredible strengths and capabilities, but also our limitations,” he added.

The 22-month Syrian uprising has left more than 60,000 dead, according to the UN.

Almost 600,000 Syrians out of an estimated 2 million displaced have fled to neighboring countries, many of them living in tent camps.

The UN says 4 million Syrians need emergency aid.

Obama said he had to make decisions that balance all these issues and hope that at the end of his presidency, he could look back and say that he had made more right calls than wrong ones.

Obama’s comments came one day after Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev said al-Assad made a “grave, perhaps fatal error” by delaying political reforms.

“He should have acted much more quickly and reached out to the peaceful opposition which was ready to sit at the negotiating table with him,” Russian news agencies quoted Medvedev as saying on Sunday.

“It’s a grave error on his part, perhaps fatal,” he said, in a rare criticism of al-Assad by Syria’s traditional ally Moscow.

“It seems to me that his chances of staying [in power] are shrinking day by day,” Medvedev told CNN television on the sidelines of the Davos World Economic Forum in Switzerland.

He reiterated Russia’s stand that only the Syrian people can decide the fate of al-Assad.

“I personally a few times called Assad and said: ‘You need to start reforms, you need to sit at the negotiating table,’” he said, according to the CNN transcript.

“In my view, unfortunately, the Syrian authorities turned out not to be ready for this,” he said.

In other news, Syria’s high judicial council announced on Sunday a suspension of prosecutions of opposition members so they can join a national dialogue, state media reported.

“The high judicial council has decided to discontinue all prosecutions against opposition forces and individuals so they may participate in the national dialogue,” the official news agency SANA said, without elaborating.

In other developments, 10 rebels were killed in combat with government forces in Hasakeh, a majority-Kurdish city in northeast Syria, while fighting raged in a Damascus district yesterday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.