Obama’s ‘red line’ on Syria grows softer

By Paul Richter
 WASHINGTON — President Obama softened his threat to Syria over its possible use of chemical weapons, telling reporters that if conclusive proof of such activity emerges, he “would rethink a range” of retaliatory options that might not include military action.

Obama, who has called Syria’s use of chemical weapons in its civil war a “red line,” also made clear at a White House news conference Tuesday that the burden of a response is not the United States’ alone, but one that is shared by all nations.

“What’s happening in Syria is a blemish on the international community generally,” he said. Confirmed use of poison gas by Syrian forces would be “a game changer not simply for the United States, but for the international community.”

Obama was asked directly if that meant his administration would take military action.

“By ‘game changer,’ I mean that we would have to rethink the range of options that are available to us,” he said. If the White House obtains conclusive proof of poison gas use, “that means that there’s some options that we might not otherwise exercise that we would … strongly consider.”

Obama first warned Syrian President Bashar Assad last August that use of lethal chemical weapons, or transfer of such stockpiles to terrorist groups, would cross a “red line.” He left ambiguous what kind of response he might take, although it seemed to imply U.S. military action.

But since the White House last week announced that U.S. intelligence agencies had concluded with varying degrees of confidence that sarin, a nerve agent, had been released in Syria, Obama has made it gradually clearer that he is far from embracing a military option that might pull the United States into another war.

Obama emphasized Tuesday that while evidence indicates some use of chemical agents occurred, investigators have yet to determine if regime forces intentionally used poison gas, if it was accidentally released or if insurgents or other groups fired the weapons.

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