U.S. Rethinks Force Options Amid Slow Syria Progress

Syrian rebel fighters on Tuesday ride a tank toward the front line in a battle with Syrian government forces near the city of Hama. The United States is re-examining possible moves against the Syrian regime amid stalled diplomatic efforts.
Syrian rebel fighters on Tuesday ride a tank toward the front line in a battle with Syrian government forces near the city of Hama. The United States is re-examining possible moves against the Syrian regime amid stalled diplomatic efforts. (Abu Hadi al-Hamwi/AFP/Getty Images)

The United States is re-examining possible new moves against Syria's government as diplomacy languishes, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Enforcing aircraft restrictions over the strife-ridden country and enhancing assistance to moderate opposition forces are among potential actions under consideration, Obama insiders told the newspaper for a Tuesday report. The reassessment came amid slow progress in discussions to end Syria's civil war, as well as in an international operation to eliminate chemical weapons held by the Syrian regime.

Citing the chemical disarmament effort now under way, the U.S. sources suggested that Russia might push for concessions from Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime only when faced with the possibility of significant U.S. action. The Syrian government agreed to surrender its chemical arsenal under pressure from its Russian ally last year, after President Obama raised the possibility of an armed U.S. response to a sarin nerve agent attack in opposition-held territory near Damascus.

Eliminating Assad's chemical-warfare materials has progressed slower than expected by international authorities, Reuters reported on Friday. Damascus reportedly has placed in international custody just 11 percent of its chemical stocks and 5 percent of its deadliest items, setting it up to possibly fall short of a mid-year goal for the arsenal's full destruction.

Speaking on Friday, Obama said he saw the possibility of "intermediate steps [for] applying more pressure to the Assad regime," the news agency reported.

Government insiders said the review of possible actions against Assad's government has gained backing within U.S. armed forces and intelligence circles, though the degree of White House backing remains uncertain, the Journal reported.

Last week, top spy officials from state adversaries of the Syrian regime extensively discussed how to potentially provide more sophisticated arms to Assad's opponents, the New York Times reported on Monday. Any new assistance could include portable anti-air interceptors that Obama and other top Western officials had previously resisted giving the rebels.

February 18, 2014
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The United States is re-examining possible new moves against Syria's government as diplomacy languishes, the Wall Street Journal reports.