Obama administration past and current views on Syria

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This page is an aggregation of statements from various members of the executive branch in regard to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the Syrian civil war.


In March 2011, pro-democracy protests evolved in Damascus and Daraa, where political prisoners were held for speaking out against President Assad's Baathe party regime.[1] As the protests grew more popular, the government security forces cracked down, detaining some and opening fire on others in Daraa.[1][2] In May 2011, the United States ordered sanctions against the Syrian government for human rights violations, but President Assad continued his assualt on the protesters throughout Syria leaving thousands killed, according to the United Nations.[3] Throughout the rest of 2011 and until July 2012, the U.S. withdrew ambassadors and diplomats from Syria while the rebels continued to fight with pro-Assad forces.[3] In July 2012, the Syrian government threatened the use of biological and chemical weapons if outside forces invaded the country, and the following month, U.S. President Barack Obama responded that if biological or chemical weapons were used, the U.S. would reconsider its opposition to military involvement in Syria.[3] On August 21, 2013, the Syrian government was accused of a chemical weapons attack on a town in the suburbs of Damascus, killing thousands, including women and children.[4]

Statements of current federal officials

Barack Obama

See also: Barack Obama


September 10, 2013
"I will not put American boots on the ground in Syria. I will not pursue an open-ended action like Iraq or Afghanistan. I will not pursue a prolonged air campaign like Libya or Kosovo. This would be a targeted strike to achieve a clear objective: deterring the use of chemical weapons, and degrading Assad’s capabilities."[5][6]
On President Assad's agreement to forfeit chemical weapons: "I have, therefore, asked the leaders of Congress to postpone a vote to authorize the use of force while we pursue this diplomatic path."[5][6]
September 9, 2013

{{Quote|"If we don't maintain and move forward with a credible threat of military pressure, I do not think we will actually get the kind of agreement I would like to see."[7]

On the proposal that the Syrian government forfeit their chemical weapons to the international community: "We have not seen these kinds of gestures up until now. The fact that the U.S. administration and I have said we are serious about this, I think has prompted some interesting conversations."[8][6]
"If we can accomplish this limited goal without taking military action, that would be my preference. On the other hand, if we don't maintain and move forward without a credible threat of military pressure, I don't think we'll actually get the kind of agreement I'd like to see."[9][6]
August 31, 2013
"Our intelligence shows the Assad regime and its forces preparing to use chemical weapons, launching rockets in the highly populated suburbs of Damascus, and acknowledging that a chemical weapons attack took place. And all of this corroborates what the world can plainly see -- hospitals overflowing with victims; terrible images of the dead. All told, well over 1,000 people were murdered. Several hundred of them were children -- young girls and boys gassed to death by their own government." [10][6]
"And finally, let me say this to the American people: I know well that we are weary of war. We’ve ended one war in Iraq. We’re ending another in Afghanistan. And the American people have the good sense to know we cannot resolve the underlying conflict in Syria with our military. In that part of the world, there are ancient sectarian differences, and the hopes of the Arab Spring have unleashed forces of change that are going to take many years to resolve. And that's why we’re not contemplating putting our troops in the middle of someone else’s war."[10][6]
April 30, 2013
"If we end up rushing to judgment without hard, effective evidence ... we can find ourselves in a position where we can't marshal the international community in support of what we do. It's important for us to do this in a prudent way."[11][6]


December 3, 2012
"The use of chemical weapons is, and would be, totally unacceptable and if you make the tragic mistake of using these weapons, there will be consequences and you will be held accountable."[12][6]


August 18, 2011
"The United States opposes the use of violence against peaceful protesters in Syria, and we support the universal rights of the Syrian people."[13][6]
"The future of Syria must be determined by its people, but President Bashar al-Assad is standing in their way. His calls for dialogue and reform have rung hollow while he is imprisoning, torturing, and slaughtering his own people. We have consistently said that President Assad must lead a democratic transition or get out of the way. He has not led. For the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for President Assad to step aside."[13][6]
"The United States cannot and will not impose this transition upon Syria. It is up to the Syrian people to choose their own leaders, and we have heard their strong desire that there not be foreign intervention in their movement. What the United States will support is an effort to bring about a Syria that is democratic, just, and inclusive for all Syrians. We will support this outcome by pressuring President Assad to get out of the way of this transition, and standing up for the universal rights of the Syrian people along with others in the international community."[13][6]

John Kerry

See also: John Kerry


September 9, 2013
"Sure, (Bashar Assad) could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week. But he isn't about to do it, and it can't be done.[14][6]
See also: Syrian response
"We will be able to hold Bashar al-Assad accountable without engaging in troops on the ground or any other prolonged kind of effort in a very limited, very targeted, short-term effort that degrades his capacity to deliver chemical weapons without assuming responsibility for Syria's civil war. That is exactly what we are talking about doing – unbelievably small, limited kind of effort."[15][6]
September 3, 2013
During his meeting with the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee: "Mr. Chairman, it would be preferable not to, not because there is any intention or any plan or any desire whatsoever to have boots on the ground," Kerry replied. "And I think the president will give you every assurance in the world, as am I, as has the secretary of defense and the chairman. But in the event Syria imploded, for instance, or in the event there was a threat of a chemical weapons cache falling into the hands of al-Nusra or someone else and it was clearly in the interest of our allies and all of us, the British, the French and others, to prevent those weapons of mass destruction falling into the hands of the worst elements, I don't want to take off the table an option that might or might not be available to a president of the United States to secure our country."[16][6]
August 30, 2013
"Well, we know that the Assad regime has the largest chemical weapons programs in the entire Middle East. We know that the regime has used those weapons multiple times this year, and has used them on a smaller scale but still it has used them against its own people, including not very far from where last Wednesday's attack happened."[17][6]
"It matters because if we choose to live in the world where a thug and a murderer like Bashar al-Assad can gas thousands of his own people with impunity, even after the United States and our allies said no, and then the world does nothing about it, there will be no end to the test of our resolve and the dangers that will flow from those others who believe that they can do as they will."[17][6]


March 29, 2011
On whether the U.S should use sanctions or raise the Syrian violence to the United Nations, "I think it's premature." ... "You have to see what develops in the next hours. It could reach that point. I don’t think that with this fact pattern that is the choice to make."[18][6]
March 16, 2011
In response to a question about encouraging democracy in Syria, "But President Assad has been very generous with me in terms of the discussions we have had. And when I last went to – the last several trips to Syria – I asked President Assad to do certain things to build the relationship with the United States and sort of show the good faith that would help us to move the process forward."[19][6]

Chuck Hagel

See also: Chuck Hagel


September 4, 2013
"There’s no secret that the Assad regime has had chemical weapons, significant stockpiles of chemical weapons."[20][6]
In response to the question of whether the weapons came from a specific country: "The Russians supply them, others are supplying them with those chemical weapons, they make some themselves."[20][6]
The Pentagon Press Secretary later released a statement in regard to Hagel's comment about Russia, claiming, "In a response to a member of Congress, Secretary Hagel was referring to the well-known conventional arms relationship between Syria and Russia. The Syrian regime has a decades-old largely indigenous chemical weapons program. Currently, Russia provides the Syrian regime a wide variety of military equipment and support, some of which can be modified or otherwise used to support the chemical weapons program. We have publicly and privately expressed our concern over the destabilizing impact on the Syrian conflict and the wider region of continued military shipments to the Assad regime."[21][6]
September 3, 2013
"This risk of chemical weapons proliferation poses a direct threat to our friends and partners and to U.S. personnel in the region. We cannot afford for Hezbollah or any terrorist group determined to strike the United States to have incentives to acquire or use chemical weapons."[22][6]
April 25, 2013
"This morning, the White House delivered a letter to several members of Congress on the topic of chemical weapons use in Syria. The letter, which will be made available to you here shortly, states that the U.S. intelligence community assesses with some degree of varying confidence that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale in Syria, specifically the chemical agent sarin."[23][6]
"We cannot confirm the origin of these weapons, but we do believe that any use of chemical weapons in Syria would very likely have originated with the Assad regime."[23][6]

Susan Rice

See also: Susan Rice


September 9, 2013
"Any president, Republican or Democrat, must have recourse to all elements of American power to design and implement our national security policy — diplomatic, economic or militaristic. Rejecting limited military action that President Obama strongly supports would raise questions around the world about whether the United States is truly prepared to use the full range of its power."[24][6]
September 3, 2013
"We have no expectation of losing the vote in Congress."[25][6]
"We think that the Congress of the United States and the American people understand that we have compelling national interests at stake here."[25][6]
"All of this is horrific. All of us as human beings feel terrible when we see the extraordinary loss of life that [has] occurred in Syria. With chemical weapons, they can kill with indiscriminate abandon. People who are innocent are employed in conflict. It is of a greater magnitude because if terrorists get ahold of those weapons, if other dictators get ahold of those weapons, they can be used on a massive scale."[25][6]


October 4, 2011
On Russia and China vetoing a U.N. resolution containing Syrian sanctions: "We had countries all over the world supporting this resolution today, and we have countries throughout the region who’ve been very clear that the brutality of the Assad regime has to end and that the behavior of the regime is absolutely intolerable."[26][6]

Samantha Power

See also: Samantha Power


September 9, 2013
On Obama's call for a limited military strike: "If we take military action in this context, it will be a legitimate, necessary and proportionate response to this large-scale and indiscriminate use of chemical weapons by this regime."[27][6]

Statements of past federal officials

Hillary Clinton


September 9, 2013
In her first official comments, Clinton claimed it would be an "important step," for Syria to forfeit their chemical weapons to the international community. She continued, commenting, "But this cannot be another excuse for delay or obstruction. And Russia has to support the international community's efforts sincerely or be held to account."[28][6]
September 3, 2013
An aide for Clinton released the following statement, "Secretary Clinton supports the president’s effort to enlist the Congress in pursuing a strong and targeted response to the Assad regime’s horrific use of chemical weapons."[29][6]


December 3, 2012
"I am not going to telegraph any specifics what we do in the event of credible evidence that the Assad regime has resorted to using chemical weapons against their own people, but suffice to say we are certainly planning to take action if that eventuality were to occur."[12][6]


March 29, 2011
"We're also going to continue to urge that the promise of reform, which has been made over and over again and which you reported on just a few months ago – I'm a reformer, I'm going to reform, and I've talked to members of Congress and others about that, that we hear from the highest levels of leadership in Syria – will actually be turned into reality."[30][6]
March 27, 2011
"There's a different leader in Syria now. Many of the members of Congress of both parties who have gone to Syria in recent months have said they believe he's a reformer."[30][6]

Leon Panetta


September 28, 2012
"We've never had perfect visibility into the Syrian chemical weapons stockpile, but we have excellent information that accounts for most of it. We've seen it move, and we've been able to make an assessment as to why it's been moved. This is a highly distributed network of chemical weapons sites, and we have a good grasp of what's going on inside that network."[31][6]

Public opinion

  • September 9, 2013: According to a CNN/ORC International poll, 8 in 10 Americans believe Assad used chemical weapons on his own people. However, 7 in 10 say that strikes against Syria would not achieve significant goals for the U.S. and are not in our best interest.[32]
  • September 9, 2013: According to a Gallup poll, the most popular reason (43% of respondents) for opposing strikes in Syria is that it does not concern the U.S./we do not need to start another war.[33]

International opinion

Syrian response

On September 9, 2013, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem responded to an offer by Russia to forfeit the government's chemical weapons to the international community. He stated, "Syria welcomes the Russian proposal out of concern for the lives of the Syrian people, the security of our country and because it believes in the wisdom of the Russian leadership that seeks to avert American aggression against our people." Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov responded, "We are calling on the Syrian leadership to not only agree on placing chemical weapons storage sites under international control, but also on its subsequent destruction and fully joining the treaty on prohibition of chemical weapons." The Assad regime maintained it's denial of responsibility for the attack on August 21, 2013.[34]

According to CBS, in an interview on September 8, 2013, President Assad denied committing the chemical weapons attack, stating, "There has been no evidence that I used chemical weapons against my own people."[4]

European Union

On September 7, 2013, the European Union (EU) met and called for a "clear and strong" international response to President Assad's use of chemical weapons. However, European leaders did not come to an agreement on the proposed U.S. plan of a limited military action. Many leaders felt it necessary to wait until the release of United Nations reports by chemical weapons inspectors.[35]

G20 summit

On September 6, 2013, Australia, Canada, France, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Turkey, Britain and the United States signed an agreement supporting "strong international response to this grave violation of the world's rules and conscience that will send a clear message that this kind of atrocity can never be repeated."[36] The next day, Germany agreed to join the resolution, waiting for a vote by the EU on a similar resolution.[37]

China and Russia

China and Russia are in opposition of an intervention in Syria. Chinese Deputy Finance Minister Zhu Guangyao stated prior to the G20 summit, "Military action would have a negative impact on the global economy, especially on oil prices – it will cause a hike in the oil price."[38] On September 4, 2013, Russian President Vladamir Putin, when asked how Russia would respond to a U.S. intervention, stated, "We have our ideas about what we will do and how we will do it in case the situation develops toward the use of force or otherwise. We have our plans." He continued, mentioning establishing a missile defense system in Syria, "If we see that steps are taken that violate the existing international norms, we shall think how we should act in the future, in particular regarding supplies of such sensitive weapons to certain regions of the world."[39]

See also

External links

The White House
U.S. Department of State
U.S. Department of Defense


  1. 1.0 1.1 CNN, "Daraa: The spark that lit the Syrian flame," March 1, 2012
  2. BBC, "Syria profile," accessed September 4, 2013
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Miami Herald, "Timeline of key events in Syrian uprising," September 4, 2013
  4. 4.0 4.1 CBC News, "Syria's Assad says 'no evidence' of chemical weapons use," September 8, 2013
  5. 5.0 5.1 Washington Post, "FULL TRANSCRIPT: President Obama’s Sept. 10 speech on Syria," September 10, 2013
  6. 6.00 6.01 6.02 6.03 6.04 6.05 6.06 6.07 6.08 6.09 6.10 6.11 6.12 6.13 6.14 6.15 6.16 6.17 6.18 6.19 6.20 6.21 6.22 6.23 6.24 6.25 6.26 6.27 6.28 6.29 6.30 6.31 6.32 6.33 6.34 6.35 Note: This text is quoted verbatim from the original source. Any inconsistencies are attributed to the original source.
  7. U.S. News and World Report, "Obama: I might lose congressional vote on Syria," September 9, 2013
  8. CNN, "Obama: 'Breakthrough' is possible on Syria," September 9, 2013
  9. CNN, "A stunning turn that could silence Syria war drums," September 10, 2013
  10. 10.0 10.1 The White House, "Statement by the President on Syria," August 31, 2013
  11. Fox News, "Obama walks back 'red line' stance on Syrian government using chemical weapons," April 30, 2013
  12. 12.0 12.1 The Guardian, "Barack Obama warns Syria of chemical weapons 'consequences'," December 3, 2012
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 President Obama: "The future of Syria must be determined by its people, but President Bashar al-Assad is standing in their way," August 18, 2011
  14. Fox News, "Kerry comment could undermine Obama push for Syria strike," September 9, 2013
  15. The Guardian, "John Kerry gives Syria week to hand over chemical weapons or face attack," September 9, 2013
  16. The Atlantic, "American 'Boots on the Ground' in Syria? John Kerry's Facepalm Moment," September 3, 2013
  17. 17.0 17.1 The Guardian, "John Kerry statement on US intervention in Syria – full text," August 30, 2013
  18. Washington Post, "John Kerry’s message to Syria," March 29, 2011
  19. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, "Senator John Kerry on the U.S. Policy Toward the Middle East," March 16, 2011 (Note: Page 16)
  20. 20.0 20.1 Huffington Post, "Chuck Hagel: Russia Provided Some Chemical Weapons To Syria," September 4, 2013
  21. ABC News, "Pentagon Clarifies Hagel’s Comments That Russia Sent Chemical Weapons to Syria," September 4, 2013
  22. Department of Defense, "Hagel Urges Congress to Support Military Action Against Syria," September 3, 2013
  23. 23.0 23.1 New York Times, "Chuck Hagel’s Statement on Syria," April 25, 2013
  24. Washington Post, "Obama adviser Susan Rice pushes president’s case for strike against Syria," September 9, 2013
  25. 25.0 25.1 25.2 Huffington Post, "Susan Rice On Syria: White House is 'Quite Confident' Congress Will Support A Strike," September 3, 2013
  26. New York Times, "U.N. Resolution on Syria Blocked by Russia and China," October 4, 2011
  27. Huffington Post, "Samantha Power Suggests Bombing Syria May Not Be Legal, But Is Necessary," September 9, 2013
  28. CNN, "Hillary Clinton weighs in: Syria weapons handover would be 'important step'," September 9, 2013
  29. Politico, "Hillary Clinton backs President Obama on Syria," September 3, 2013
  30. 30.0 30.1 Washington Post, "Hillary Clinton’s uncredible statement on Syria," April 4, 2011
  31. Foreign Policy, "Panetta: We've Lost Track of Some Syrian Chemical Weapons," September 28, 2012
  32. CNN, "CNN poll: Public against Syria strike resolution", accessed September 9, 2013
  33. Gallup, "In U.S., Opponents Say Action in Syria Not America's Concern", accessed September 9, 2013
  34. CBS News, "Syria says it "welcomes" Russian proposal to place chemical weapons under international control," September 9, 2013
  35. Washington Post, "European Union backs ‘strong,’ but not immediate, response to Syrian attack," September 7, 2013
  36. Haaretz, "In White House statement, 11 nations urge strong global response on Syria," September 6, 2013
  37. Politico, "Angela Merkel knocked for Syria statement delay," September 9, 2013
  38. The Guardian, "Syria crisis: China joins Russia in opposing military strikes," September 5, 2013
  39. The Guardian, "Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin set for collision over Syria at G20 summit," September 4, 2013