WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama strongly suggested Tuesday that he would consider military action against Syria if it can be confirmed that President Bashar Assad’s government used chemical weapons in the two-year-old civil war.
At a White House press conference, the president also defended the FBI in the wake of disclosures since the deadly bombing at the Boston Marathon two weeks ago.
Asked about Syria, the president said that while there was evidence that chemical weapons were used inside the country, “we don’t know when they were used, how they were used. We don’t know who used them. We don’t have a chain of custody that establishes” exactly what happened.
If it can be established that the Syrian government used chemical weapons, he said, “we would have to rethink the range of options that are available to us.”
“Obviously there are options to me that are on the shelf right now that we have not deployed,” he said, noting that he had asked Pentagon planners last year for additional possibilities.
He said a national security review following the Boston Marathon bombings will look at whether there is more the government can do to stop people within the United States who might become radicalized and plan terror attacks.
One of the dangers the U.S. faces now, Obama said, is people who might decide to attack because of “whatever warped, twisted ideas they may have.”
Obama said that based on what he’s seen so far, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security did what they were supposed to before the attack.
But he said the review was needed to determine whether more can be done to prevent this type of attack by people within the United States who may become radicalized. Obama said.
He also said that “Russians have been very cooperative with us since the Boston bombing.”
The bombing suspects are Russian natives who immigrated to the Boston area. Russian authorities told U.S. officials before the bombings they had concerns about the family, but Moscow has revealed details of wiretapped conversations only since the attack.
On other matters, Obama:
— Responded with slight ridicule and humor when he was asked if he still had the political juice to push his agenda through Congress after an early second-term defeat on gun control legislation.
“Golly, I might just as well pack up and go home,” he said. “Rumors of my demise may be a little exaggerated at this point.”
— Expressed confidence that Congress would approve sweeping immigration legislation that he is seeking.
— Renewed his call for lawmakers to replace across-the-board federal spending cuts. The administration favors a comprehensive plan to reduce deficits through targeted spending cuts and higher taxes.
— Said he would “re-engage with Congress” on the future of the prison for detainees at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. As a candidate for the White House in 2007 and 2008, Obama called for closing the base, which was set up as part of President George W. Bush’s response to the terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. Lawmakers objected and the facility remains open.
Asked about a hunger strike by some detainees, he said: “I don’t want these individuals to die,” and he said the Pentagon was doing what it could to manage the situation.