Middle East/North Africa

White House: We’re not seeking ‘regime change’ as goal in Syria

The White House said Tuesday that President Obama is not seeking “regime change” in Syria from any military strikes launched in response to President Bashar Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons.

“The options we are considering are not about regime change,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said. “That is not what we are contemplating here.”

The White House spokesman said that the administration was instead simply weighing a reaction to the violation of “an international standard” barring the use of chemical weapons.

“It is not our policy to respond to this transgression with regime change,” he said.

The comments by Carney came as the White House attempts to decouple the response to last week’s chemical attack in the Damascus suburbs from broader support for the rebel forces challenging Assad in Syria.

While the United States has repeatedly said that Assad would and must fall from power, the Obama administration has also said that transition needs to come internally. Carney reiterated on Tuesday that there was “no military solution to the conflict in Syria,” giving credence to reports that a U.S. military response would be limited in scope.

“We are very engaged in the process of pursuing a political resolution to this conflict,” Carney said. “We have stated it for a long time, that there is no military solution available here, that the way to bring about a better future in Syria is through negotiation and a political resolution.”

Still, Carney said that “there must be a response” to the rocket attack in the suburbs of Damascus last week. Rebel groups on the ground have estimated that more than 1,000 Syrians died in the chemical weapon attack.

Earlier Tuesday, NBC News reported that the U.S. was preparing three days of bombing attacks on Syrian targets to begin as early as Wednesday.

Administration officials told the network the strikes would be limited in scope and aimed at sending a message to Assad in hopes of deterring a future chemical weapons attack.

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel told the BBC that the military was “ready to go” if orders came from Obama to begin the strikes.

“We have moved assets in place to be able to fulfill and comply with whatever option the president wishes to take,” said Hagel.

But at the White House, Carney insisted that no decision had yet been made.

“The president continues to work with his national security team reviewing the options available to him,” Carney said. “That process continues.”

The White House spokesman also said that the public can expect “this week” a declassified report laying out the U.S. intelligence determining that the Assad regime was responsible for the chemical attack.

“There is also very little doubt and should be no doubt for anyone who approaches this logically that the Syrian regime is responsible for the use of chemical weapons,” Carney said.

On Monday, CBS News reported that Obama had personally ordered the creation and release of the report during a meeting with his national security team over the weekend.

The White House also looked to partially address concerns voiced by some who oppose military intervention who have pointed to a 2007 Boston Globe interview in which Obama said the “president does not have the power, under the Constitution, to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.”

Carney said Tuesday that Syria’s use of chemical weapons did pose an actual threat to the U.S.

“I believe that absolutely allowing the use of chemical weapons on a significant scale to take place without a response would present a significant challenge to or threat to the United States’ national security,” Carney said.

–This report was updated at 2:36 p.m.

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