WASHINGTON — The US will not pursue regime change in Syria, the State Department said Tuesday, as the Obama administration continued to strengthen its case for a military strike against the regime in Damascus.
US State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf said that the US would not seek to oust Syrian President Bashar Assad but instead preferred to strengthen opposition forces “in an effort to help them grow stronger in their resistance to the Assad regime.”
The statement echoed British Prime Minister David Cameron, who said earlier that the UK was not concerned with who was running Syria but stopping the use of chemical weapons.
“Let me stress to people, this is not about getting involved in a Middle Eastern war or changing our stance in Syria, or going further into that conflict,” he said. “It’s about chemical weapons. Their use is wrong and the world should not stand idly by.”
With reports of preparations by the US and Britain ahead of a possible military strike proliferating in the media, both countries attempted to calm the waters Tuesday, with officials saying leaders had not yet decided on what course of action to take.
White House Spokesman Jay Carney emphasized that “a decision about the use of military force has not been made. The president is reviewing his options, plural.”
The West has upped pressure on Syria recently, after reports of a chemical attack on a neighborhood east of Damascus that killed hundreds, according to various estimates. The Syrian regime has denied responsibility.
On Sunday, Syria said it would allow UN inspectors into the site, but Harf said Tuesday that continued pro-regime attacks targeting the Ghouta area, where the attack last Wednesday took place, had rendered the probe “not credible.”
“We have reached a point now at which we believed that too much time has been passed for the investigation to be credible,” Harf told reporters.
She noted that UN investigators had come under sniper fire on Monday, and that on Tuesday, Assad’s forces shelled the area that the UN was supposed to visit. Harf added that the US believes that the situation on the ground is too dangerous for UN investigators.
“It is important that the regime not use the UN investigation as a stalling tactic to hide behind and evade responsibility,” Harf said.
The UN confirmed its chemical weapons team’s mission faced a one-day delay Tuesday to improve preparedness and safety after unidentified snipers opened fire on the team’s convoy Monday.
In Geneva, UN spokeswoman Alessandra Vellucci said the UN inspection team might need longer than the planned 14 days to complete its work. She said its goal is to determine what chemical weapons might have been used in the August 21 attack.
The Obama administration put forward a legal argument Tuesday for undertaking a military response to the use of chemical weapons against civilians in Syria, while the State Department laid responsibility at the doorstop of the Assad regime.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said the United States and 188 other nations are signatories to a chemical weapons convention opposing the use of such weapons. Those countries have a stake in ensuring that international norms must be respected and there must be a response to a clear violation of those norms, he said.
Harf meanwhile railed against attempts to call in to question the responsibility of Assad for the deadly gas attack.
“It is crystal clear to anybody looking at this that the regime was responsible here,” said Harf, adding that “any assertion that the opposition could be behind this defies logic.”
The State Department official emphasized that “it is undeniable that chemical weapons were used on a large scale” and that only regime has access to the type of rockets used in the attacks, as well as a large known stockpile of chemical weapons.
Reports from Washington have indicated that US President Barack Obama has already received the intelligence assessment completed in the immediate aftermath of the gas attack that killed hundreds. That report is being prepared to be delivered to Congress later this week – and it is anticipated that the president will take steps against Syria after making his case to Congress.
Similarly, Cameron will reconvene Parliament Thursday to discuss action on Syria, and French President François Hollande announced that France’s senior defense representatives will meet on Wednesday with a briefing of Parliament anticipated afterwards.
“France is ready to punish those who took the vile decision to gas innocent people,” Hollande said Tuesday.
In the past two days, Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have spoken with dozens of their counterparts worldwide. Kerry has spoken twice in the past 24 hours with his Jordanian counterpart and with Arab League representatives.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.