“I do not foresee a scenario in which boots on the ground in Syria, American boots on the ground in Syria, would not only be good for America, but also would be good for Syria,” Mr. Obama said at a news conference in San Jose, Costa Rica, where he is attending an international summit.
The president said when he talks with other leaders in the Middle East who want to see Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad toppled, “they agree with that assessment” about keeping U.S. troops out of the conflict.
Mr. Obama put himself in the awkward position of having to specify his military view after leaving the impression earlier in the news conference that he might consider sending American troops to Damascus.
In answering a reporter’s question about how long he was willing to wait to react to reports of chemical weapons being used in Syria, Mr. Obama at first said his decision as commander-in-chief would be based on “facts on the ground” and U.S. national security interests.
Moments later, he came back to the issue, saying “I didn’t want anybody to extrapolate from” his answer that he considers sending U.S. troops to Syria a viable option.
“As a general rule, I don’t rule things out as commander-in-chief because circumstances change and you want to make sure that I always have the full power of the United States at our disposal to meet American national security interests,” Mr. Obama said. “So I just wanted to make sure that my omission there did not turn into a story.”
It was Mr. Obama’s latest attempt to explain how he intends to respond to the chemical-weapons reports, which were raised by U.S. intelligence agencies last week. The president has said he considers the use of chemical weapons to cross “red line” that he wouldn’t tolerate. But he has resisted spelling out what steps he would take to stop such attacks.
Some U.S. lawmakers have called for Mr. Obama to impose a no-fly zone over Syria. The president has been calling in recent days for the international community to verify the use of chemical weapons, and administration officials have said they are also considering sending arms to some Syrian rebel groups.
Asked how long he was willing to wait to verify reports of chemical weapons, Mr. Obama responded Friday night, “We’re not waiting. We’re not standing by.”
“We are the largest humanitarian donor, the largest contributor of non-lethal aid to opposition,” he said. “We are working to apply every pressure point that we can on Syria, working with our international partners.”
Mr. Obama said he wants to see “strong evidence” of chemical weapons so he can “present that to the international community.”
“We will stay on this,” he said. “This is not just an American problem, this is a world problem.”