Aamer Madhani, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON - President Obama said on Wednesday he has not yet made a decision on whether he will order a military strike against Syria, but said the U.S. government has "concluded" that Bashar Assad's regime has deployed chemical weapons.
In an interview on PBS NewsHour following his address to mark the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, Obama added that he has "no interest" in an open-ended conflict.
"I have not made a decision," Obama said in the interview. "I have gotten options from our military, had extensive discussions with my national security team."
Obama said, however, that the Syrian regime's alleged use of chemical weapons would factor into his calculation to act, and he warned that the Assad should be held accountable.
"I have not made a decision, but I think it's important that if, in fact, we make a choice to have repercussions for the use of chemical weapons, then the Assad regime, which is involved in a civil war, trying to protect itself, will have received a pretty strong signal that in fact, it better not do it again," Obama said. "And that doesn't solve all the problems inside of Syria, and you know, it doesn't, obviously, end the death of innocent civilians inside of Syria. "
But the president made clear that he is certain that Assad's team was responsible for the Aug. 21 strike on the outskirts of Damascus.
"We have looked at all the evidence, and we do not believe the opposition possessed nuclear weapons on - or chemical weapons of that sort," Obama said. "We do not believe that, given the delivery systems, using rockets, that the opposition could have carried out these attacks. We have concluded that the Syrian government in fact carried these out. And if that's so, then there need to be international consequences. "
The president's comments come as House Speaker John Boehner on Wednesday called on Obama to consult with Congress before making his final decision. But Boehner stopped short of seeking a formal authorization vote before the president engages in a potential strike.
The president had long expressed skepticism about the merits of American involvement in the internecine war in Syria that has left more than 100,000 dead. But he stated publicly just over a year ago that movement or deployment of chemical weapons was a "red line" that must not be crossed.
The White House had determined earlier this summer that Assad's regime had previously used chemical weapons against rebels and civilians but had resisted taking action or offering any significant new military aid to the rebel groups.
After last week's suspected chemical attack in a rebel-controlled suburb of Damascus, however, the White House has signaled that a military strike is very much a possible action.
Preparations by the Pentagon and White House went into overdrive this past weekend as officials reviewed plans of attack, all while publicly maintaining that the president had not made up his mind. And Obama and Biden have consulted extensively in recent days with allies, including Britain, Canada, France and Australia, to discuss possible next steps.
"We hope that, in fact, ultimately, a political transition can take place inside of Syria, and we're prepared to work with anybody - the Russians and others - to try to bring the parties together to resolve the conflict," Obama said. "But we want the Assad regime to understand that by using chemical weapons on a large scale against your own people - against women, against infants, against children, that you are not only breaking international norms and standards of decency, but you're also creating a situation where U.S. national interests are affected, and that needs to stop."