Obama warns of rising terror threat in Syria

President Obama singled out Islamist extremists instead of Syrian President Bashar Assad as a threat to the U.S. in Syria during his State of the Union address on Tuesday.

“In Syria, we’ll support the opposition that rejects the agenda of terrorist networks,” the president told Congress.

The comments are an indirect acknowledgment that U.S. diplomacy has failed to contain a 3-year-old civil war that has made the country a magnet for militants from across the region. Assad remains firmly in power, and his negotiators at U.S.-sponsored peace talks near Geneva, Switzerland, have shown no indication that he's considering stepping down.

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Obama did take credit for getting Assad to agree to give up his chemical weapons arsenal after the administration threatened military force last year. That process has been delayed several times, but Syria remains officially committed to carrying it out. 

“American diplomacy, backed by the threat of force, is why Syria’s chemical weapons are being eliminated,” Obama said. “And we will continue to work with the international community to usher in the future the Syrian people deserve – a future free of dictatorship, terror and fear.”

Obama's choice of words lacked the certainty of past years, when administration officials repeatedly assured the world that “Assad's days are numbered." He didn't mention the Syrian leader by name at all.

“In Syria,” Obama said back during his 2012 address, “I have no doubt that the Assad regime will soon discover that the forces of change can't be reversed and that human dignity can't be denied.”

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