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Obama cautions against rush to action in Syria

 

President Barack Obama cautioned Tuesday against rushing headlong to take action against Syria’s ruling regime, cautioning that his administration must gather more evidence before involving itself in that country’s civil war.

The president said that while evidence suggested that chemical weapons were used in Syria – thereby crossing the “red line” Obama had established in the Syrian conflict – more details were needed, namely about who used those weapons, and when.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

President Barack Obama arrives to answers questions during his new conference in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House on Tuesday, April 30, 2013.

“When I am making decisions about America’s national security and the potential for taking additional action in response to chemical weapons use, I’ve got to make sure I’ve got the facts,” Obama said at his first press conference in two months.

"And if we end up rushing to judgment without hard, effective evidence, then we can find ourselves in a position where we can't mobilize the international community to support what we do."

The situation in Syria and other issues of national security – a hunger strike at the terrorist detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and the government's response to the terrorist attack at the Boston Marathon earlier this month – have dominated much of the president's agenda over the past month. 

The hunger strike – the military said on Monday that 100 of 166 detainees had participated in the strike protesting conditions at Guantanamo Bay – prompted the president to renew his call for closing the prison. While the president signed an order early in his first term to shutter the facility, lawmakers in both parties have stymied Obama's efforts to achieve that goal. 

"I continue to believe that we’ve got to close Guantanamo. I think it is critical for us to understand that Guantanamo is not necessary to keep America safe," Obama said. "It is expensive, it is inefficient, it hurts us in terms of our international standing, it lessens cooperation in terms of our allies in counterterrorism efforts, it is a recruitment tool for extremists. It needs to be closed."

Moreover, the president pledged to "go back at" the issue, adding that his administration was reviewing ways to achieve its goal of closing the prison, perhaps by returning to Congress for permission. 

The theme of international cooperation, though, recurred throughout Obama's remarks about these tricky foreign policy issues.

President Barack Obama expands on what his administration is doing in response to reports that chemical weapons may have been used by the Syrian regime.

The president, for instance, stressed the need for the United States to act in concert with international allies in response to the situation in Syria, and said the U.S. and its partners were already “deeply invested” in trying to find a solution to the situation in Syria.

But Obama was reluctant to specify what actions his administration might take. “By ‘game-changer’ I mean that we would have to rethink the range of options that are available to us,” he said.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers has expressed reluctance to making a U.S. military incursion into Syria, though more hawkish Republicans have called for targeted strikes to help cripple parts of the Syrian military and assist rebels against the Assad regime.

Obama also said he'd worked with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the situation in Syria, but also the intelligence response to the April 15 bombings at the Boston Marathon.

Amid questions about whether the government failed to heed Russian intelligence warnings about the radicalization of the suspects in the bombing, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper ordered a review on Tuesday into the U.S. government's handling of intelligence in the case. 

"When an event like this happens, we want to go back and review every step that was taken," the president explained. "We want to leave no stone unturned. We want to see if, in fact, there's additional protocols and procedures that could be put in place that would further improve and enhance our ability to detect a potential attack."

Khalil Ashawi / Reuters

A look back at the conflict that has overtaken the country.

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