WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is trying to leverage new evidence that Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government used chemical weapons, and make a fresh diplomatic and possible military push with allies to end the country’s civil war.
This renewed effort starts with Secretary of State John Kerry’s trip to Moscow this coming week for talks with leaders in Russia, the Syrian government’s most powerful international friend.
Russia, alongside China, has blocked U.S.-led efforts three times at the United Nations to pressure Assad into stepping down. The U.S. hopes to change Moscow’s thinking with two new arguments, officials said: the evidence of chemical weapons attacks and, with the war now in its third year, American threats to arm the Syrian rebels.
The stalemate and the risk of greater chemical weapons usage are driving President Barack Obama to explore new options, including military ones. But, he made clear Friday during a visit to Costa Rica, “I do not foresee a scenario in which boots on the ground in Syria, American boots on the ground, would not only be good for America but also would be good for Syria.”
On Friday, an Israeli airstrike against Syria targeted a shipment of advanced missiles believed bound for the Lebanese military group Hezbollah, Israeli officials said Saturday. The officials said the attack was aimed at sophisticated “game-changing” weapons, but not chemical arms.
Somewhat similar to the Libya intervention two years ago, Washington is being pulled by several of its closest partners into an ambivalent escalation in Syria.
As the U.S. extricates itself from a decade of fighting in the Muslim world, it has been reluctant to get involved in a new conflict colored by sectarian warfare and terrorist groups engaged on both sides of the battle.
The U.S. also notes that the Syrian government has far greater defensive capacities than those of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, whose military was easily eliminated in 2011.