President Obama on Tuesday declined to say what actions the U.S. would take against Syrian leader Bashar Assad if a diplomatic solution aimed at disarming his chemical weapons arsenal falters, saying he was focused on making the deal work.
Obama said he would not “prejudge” the outcome of the Russian-brokered plan which calls on Assad to provide an inventory of his chemical weapons in one week and allow inspectors to destroy the arsenal by mid-2014.
“My goal consistently here has been to make sure that we get those chemical weapons out so that nobody can use them,” he said in an interview with Telemundo.
Obama said that a United Nations report released Monday strongly implicating the Syrian regime in a chemical attack that occurred on Aug. 21 bolstered his case among the international community for action against Assad.
“The U.N. process has now played itself out, the investigators have unequivocally said that chemical weapons were used, and when you look at the details of – the evidence they present – it is inconceivable that anybody other than the regime used it,” Obama said. “What that does, I think, is change the international dynamic. I think it changes international opinion on this issue.”
Obama continued to call for Assad's ouster, even though he has previously expressed caution about regime change and the U.S. only recently started arming the opposition forces.
“I do continue to believe that it is in the interest, most importantly of the Syrian people, but also the region, if you have somebody other than Assad in that country.” he said, noting that the U.S. is going to take “this a step at a time.”
“The first step right now is to make sure we can deal with the chemical weapons issue,” he said. “The next step is to engage all the parties, not just Syria itself, but those countries that have been supporting Syria, like Russia, to say, 'We need to bring an end to this.'"
Obama initially sought congressional backing for a military strike on Syria, before abandoning that plan in favor of a diplomatic solution to Assad’s chemical weapons.
Asked whether Iran has been emboldened by the administration’s conflicting signals on Syria, Obama said he believes Iran's new president, Hassan Rouhani, has shown a willingness to open a dialogue with the West in a way “we haven't seen in the past.”
“There is an opportunity here for diplomacy,” he said. “I hope the Iranians take advantage of it.”