President Obama acknowledged Thursday he doesn’t have a plan for defeating Islamist militants in Syria and backed away from imminent military action, while he also downplayed reports of a new Russian invasion in Ukraine.
“We don’t have a strategy yet,” Mr. Obama said of his plans for defeating the Islamic State in Syria. “We need to make sure that we’ve got clear plans. As our strategy develops, we will consult with Congress.”
After a week of speculation that he was about to expand U.S. airstrikes against the terrorist group — also known by the acronyms ISIL and ISIS — from its positions in Iraq to those in Syria, the president said he has ordered his military advisers to give him “a range of options.”
But Mr. Obama tried to tamp down the suggestion that his decision was imminent, saying “folks are getting a little further ahead of where we’re at than we currently are.”
“We need to make sure that we’ve got clear plans, that we’re developing them,” Mr. Obama said at a White House news conference. “There’s no point in me asking for action on the part of Congress before I know exactly what it is that is going to be required for us to get the job done.”
Russia ‘not listening’
In the other military crisis facing the president, Mr. Obama took a noticeably low-key approach to the news that Russian soldiers in tanks and armored personnel carriers captured a key town in Ukraine on Thursday, opening a new front in the six-month-old war and drawing fresh international condemnation at Moscow’s increasingly direct involvement in the fighting.
“I consider the actions we’ve seen in the last week a continuation of what we’ve seen for months now,” Mr. Obama said.
That attitude contrasted sharply with comments from Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, who said Russia “is not listening” to the international outcry, including the increasingly broad economic sanctions imposed by the U.S. and the European Union. She said in the past 48 hours, “Russia’s actions have spoken volumes.”
“Russia has to stop lying and has to stop fueling this conflict,” she said. “We see Russia’s actions for what they are: a deliberate effort to support, and now fight alongside, illegal separatists in another sovereign country.”
The White House announced Thursday night that Mr. Obama will host President Petro Poroshenko in Washington on Sept. 18.
But Moscow dismissed the accusations, describing the fighters in Ukraine as “Russian volunteers.” The Kremlin has repeatedly denied arming and supporting the separatists, who have been fighting Ukrainian troops for four months in the gravest crisis between Russia and the West since the end of the Cold War.
Some Republican lawmakers said Russia’s actions demonstrate why the Obama administration should send arms to the Ukrainian government.
“The United States and our European allies should immediately begin providing intelligence and defensive weapons to Ukraine, including anti-armor systems,” said Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina in a joint statement.
“We should also impose real sectoral sanctions on Russia — not the half-measures taken to date, but full sanctions on Russia’s defense, financial, energy and other sectors,” the two said, adding that it was “a moment to speak and act with clarity.”