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Obama advisor: U.S. will not abandon military options on Syria

Published: Updated:

The United States does not yet plan to abandon military options on Syria, an advisor to President Barack Obama told Al Arabiya in an exclusive interview on Friday.

Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security advisor for strategic communications, stressed the White House’s insistence that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad step down, adding that the U.S. will continue to support the Syrian opposition both politically and militarily.

Rhodes said the U.S. will not wait long to ensure the Syrian regime’s commitment to surrender its arsenal of chemical weapons, a process that he said should be verified by the U.N. Security Council.

“We only believe that we’re having this discussion about removing chemical weapons because of the [U.S] threat of military force, so as the president said the other night, that threat continues, and we need to see Syria follow through on its commitments in terms of the Assad regime giving up these weapons and ultimately destroying them,” Rhodes said.

“We certainly believe that this should be something that takes a matter of weeks, not a matter of months,” said Rhodes, adding that the Obama administration does not want a “drawn-out stalling tactic” by Syria’s government in handing over its chemical weapons stockpile.

Labeling chemical weapons as the “most dangerous” armaments in the regime’s arsenal, Rhodes added that the handover of the Syrian regime’s stockpile will take time due to its size.

The advisor highlighted what he described as U.S. assistance being given to both the political and military wings of the Syrian opposition, although he declined to comment on what sort of military assistance was being given.

The advisor said that the U.S. was working to solve the Syrian crisis along with other countries in the region including Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan.

“We want to make sure that we’re all working together in supporting the same opposition so that they are strengthened as a political and military body within Syria,” he said.

Iranian threat

Rhodes stressed the long-term importance of a U.S. initiative against the Syrian regime.

“If Bashar al-Assad can get away without any consequences for the use of those weapons, the risk is that Iran makes a similar calculation about developing nuclear weapons, and they need to understand that the international community, and the United States in particular, does not see that as an acceptable outcome,” he said.

Emphasizing the Obama administration’s stance against Iran developing nuclear weapons, Rhodes said that the U.S. was committed towards the international non-proliferation of nuclear weapons.

“If Iran gets a nuclear weapon, not only does that threaten the region, it risks a greater nuclear arms race, which is in nobody’s interest,” said Rhodes, adding that Iran acquiring nuclear weapons carries a risk of them being transferred to allies such as Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah.

Rhodes stated the desired U.S. outcome for Syria was a political process in which Assad steps down.

“We anticipate an interim political authority that involves Assad leaving, but we also want to make sure that each sect inside of the country can see a future for themselves in a government that is representative of them,” he said.