In interview, White House press secretary says administration considering options on Syria

The Takeaway

In Syria, the battle for Homs is intensifying, Syrians say.

They describe the shelling that is believed to have killed hundreds in recent days as having escalated dramatically. But while the United States says it’s time for the violence to end and it’s time for Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad to step aside, so far its words haven’t been backed by much action.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, in an exclusive interview, said the U.S is leading an international effort to assemble “a broad coalition opposed to Assad’s regime, demanding that he cease the inhumane, reprehensible brutality against his own people, and launching a sanctions regime that has put enormous pressure on Assad and his cronies and isolated him even further.”

He insists the sanctions have had a dramatic effect on Assad’s finances, as well as that of those who are allied with him. He also said it’s made it harder for him to continue to wage the war — though the violence that’s been escalating in Syria in recent days does make that statement somewhat hard to believe.

And while drawing comparisons to the situation in Libya, Carney insists it’s an imperfect comparison.

They’re similar in the sense that this president believes we have to build consensus internationally, we need to not act unilaterally,” Carney said. “The difference, of course, is that in (Libya) there was absolute consensus among the United Nations as well as neighboring Arab countries and a plea directly from the people of Libya for military assistance, which was authorized then by the United Nations. Unfortunately, because Russia and China vetoed the United Nations security council resolution against Syria, against Assad, that was essentially a license to kill, as we said it would be.”

That said, Carney said, the United States is making clear that it is on the side of those in the Arab world who aspire to democracy. And he said the U.S. has made clear it’s disgusted with the Syria situation as it continues to try and find a way forward.

“We are going to continue to put pressure on Assad, to sanction Assad, to assist with our partners in providing humanitarian aid to the Syrian people, and we believe quite firmly that Assad’s days are numbered,” Carney said. “He’s already losing control of parts of his country, he’s already seeing defections within his government and military, and I don’t think that process is going to stop.”

Carney also indirectly said the United States is considering providing arms to Syrian rebels — though stopped well short of committing or promising that the United States would follow through.

“We’re working with a group that we are helping stand up called the Friends of Syria, which will have a meeting in Tunisia on Feb. 24, its first meeting, which will have high-level representation from this administration, to examine all our options to help the Syrian people deal with the brutality of the Assad regime. So that includes humanitarian and other forms of assistance as well as more sanctions,” Carney said.

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Sign up for The Top of the World, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning.