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Obama, Cameron Stress Diplomatic Pressure on Syria, Iran

Obama, Cameron Stress Diplomatic Pressure on Syria, Iran

By Alexis Simendinger - March 14, 2012

After meetings at the White House with British Prime Minister David Cameron, President Obama said Wednesday that the U.S. military “plans for everything” when weighing options to end the violence in Syria. He emphasized, however, that the U.S. and U.K. remain focused on pressuring Bashar al-Assad diplomatically and politically to relinquish power, and the two leaders discussed a commitment to humanitarian assistance to aid the suffering Syrian people.

Obama spoke at a joint Rose Garden news availability dominated by discussions of world woes, including the Afghanistan War, and reluctance shared by the two Western leaders to be drawn into military assaults against Syria or Iran.

Asked if they had discussed establishing a no-fly zone over Syria or other means to degrade the military strength of the brutal Assad regime, or a timetable for action to try to save Syrian lives, Obama and Cameron both spoke of the “complexities” in Syria that give them pause about military intervention.

The president said the Pentagon has drawn up military contingency plans “because that’s part of what they do,” but he said he and Cameron focused on “immediate steps . . . just to make sure that humanitarian aid is being provided in a robust way, and to make sure that an opposition unifies along principles that ultimately would provide a clear platform for the Syrian people to be able to transition to a better form of government.”

More than 5,400 Syrians have been killed, thousands remain missing, at least 30,000 refugees have fled to other countries, and more than 70,000 others have been uprooted from their homes, according to the United Nations. The Syrian regime was accused in February of “crimes against humanity” by an international panel of inquiry.

Obama acknowledged “horrific violence” in that nation and called the brutality “unacceptable,” but he appeared to back Cameron, who said -- as he has been saying in London -- that a transition, and not a revolution, was in the Syrian people’s best interests.

Although Obama and Cameron did not specify how a Syrian-led transition -- in their view more peaceful than a revolution -- would play out, Assad’s opponents have said there are three possible scenarios under which the regime could crumble: economic mayhem brought about by the violence, coupled with sanctions on sales of Syrian oil; continued defections from the Syrian government, exodus of elites from the country, or an outright coup; or the regime’s loss of state control in Damascus and other key cities.

Cameron suggested that if Syria erupts in civil war or revolution, the result would be Assad’s doing. Responding to a question, he said those who commit crimes against humanity eventually will come to justice. “International law has got a long reach and a long memory, and the people who are leading Syria at the moment and committing these crimes need to know that,” he said.

Both leaders continued to argue that Assad’s future is not about clinging to power, but about how soon he will be toppled.

“What we want is the quickest way to stop the killing,” Cameron said. “That is through transition rather than revolution or civil war. But if Assad continues, then civil war or revolution is the inevitable consequence. So we will work with anyone who is ready to build a stable, inclusive, and democratic Syria for all Syrians.”

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Alexis Simendinger covers the White House for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at asimendinger@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @ASimendinger.

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