White House says no boots on the ground in Syria

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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The White House is ruling out the deployment of U.S. ground forces to Syria, but continues to hint that it will use air power to punish Syria’s regime for using chemical weapons against civilians.

“We don’t envision U.S. boots on the ground in Syria,” said Jay Carney, the spokesman for President Barack Obama.

Carney also insisted that any response to the chemical weapons attack is not connected to the Syrian civil war, or to the ongoing U.S. support for the rebels.

The rebels, who include many al-Qaida-linked jihadis, are trying to overthrow the Iran-backed dictatorship.

The impending “action … is not about regime change,” Carney said. “That is not what we are contemplating here.”

The Syrian civil war “is a separate matter” that should be brought to an end via negotiations, he said.

“The goal is to make clear that this [use of chemical weapons] is unacceptable” to the world’s nations, Carney said. “To allow it it happen without response would be to give a green light … to other potential users of chemical weapons that there will be no response.”

He also said, however, that the president is looking at non-military options. Carney declined to describe the non-military options.

“There will be a response,” he said.

One option is an airstrike using guided weapons against the Syrian combat units and leaders who directed the chemical-weapons attack on Feb. 21.

White House officials insist the attack was launched by the Syrian army against rebel-held areas.

However, rebels in many conflicts have staged real or fake massacres to spur international involvement by the United States. Russian officials, who are allies of the Syrian government, have suggested the attack was staged by rebels to prompt U.S. intervention.

“We see no evidence” that a group other than the Syrian government conducted the attack, Carney said.

While considering his options, Obama is also reaching out to friendly nations for support.

On Tuesday, he spoke to Canada’s prime minister, Stephen Harper, one day after speaking to Australia’s prime minister, Kevin Rudd.

On Sunday, he spoke to France’s prime minister, Francois Hollande, one day after speaking to David Cameron, the prime minister of the United Kingdom.

The White House released boilerplate “readouts” that vaguely described the conversations.

“The President and Prime Minister Harper spoke today by phone to discuss their grave concern about the reported use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime against civilians near Damascus on Wednesday, August 21. The United States and Canada strongly oppose the use of chemical weapons, and the President and Prime Minister pledged to continue to consult closely on potential responses by the international community,” said the readout after the Aug. 27 conversation with Harper.

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