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White House: No formal review of Syria policy

The Obama administration is not formally reviewing its Syria policy, the White House said Thursday after reports President Obama has requested his advisers re-evaluate their approach to the war-torn country.

{mosads}“There’s no formal strategy review of our Syria policy,” deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters traveling with the president in Burma.

CNN reported Wednesday that the president’s national security team had convened four meetings in the past week after determining that defeating the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) might be an impossible goal without removing Syrian President Bashar Assad from power.

The administration, thus far, has primarily focused its military attention on fighting ISIS in Iraq, partnering with Baghdad to target jihadi fighters who have gained large swaths of land in the country’s northern regions. The hope had been that effort would buy enough time for the U.S. and coalition partners to train and equip the moderate Syrian opposition, who could then engage and ultimately defeat both ISIS and the Assad regime in their country.

But a senior administration official told the network that “developments on the ground have caused the national security team to collectively conclude we may not have time for Iraq first.”

“In an ideal world, you would drive ISIL out of Iraq and pivot to Syria,” the official said, using an alternative acronym for the terror group. “But if by then the moderate opposition has been smacked, and ISIL is still there, that doesn’t help.”

The report suggested the U.S. could implement a no-fly zone against Assad’s forces, or accelerate and expand the train-and-equip program.

Rhodes on Thursday acknowledged that senior advisers “certainly looked at what the relationship is between the actions we’re taking against ISIL and the political transition.”

But he said he “wouldn’t rule out the prospect that you could defeat ISIL absent” a political transition within Syria.

Rhodes did acknowledge that there had been “regular meetings that the president has joined with his national security team on this issue.”

“Clearly no one is satisfied with the situation in Syria as it currently stands,” Rhodes continued. “We haven’t been satisfied for years, given the loss of life there, the destabilization, the flow of refugees out of the country. And that means we’re always going to be taking a hard look at what more we can do to effectively degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL, but also support a return to a stable Syria where there’s been a transition to a new government that can have the confidence of more of the Syrian people.”

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