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U.S. unlikely to intervene in Syria soon

| Friday, Aug. 23, 2013, 7:30 p.m.
AFP/Getty Images
US President Barack Obama listens to a question during a town hall meeting at Binghamton University, on August 23, 2013 in Binghamton, New York. Obama is on a two-day bus tour through New York and Pennsylvania to discuss his plan to make college more affordable, tackle rising costs, and improve value for students and their families. AFP Photo/Jewel SamadJEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images

WASHINGTON — President Obama on Friday played down the prospect of speedy intervention in Syria, stressing the difficulty of ordering military action against the Assad government without a strong international coalition and a legal mandate from the United Nations.

While his administration weighed military responses to this week's claims of a large-scale chemical weapons attack near Damascus, Obama spoke as cautiously as ever about getting involved in a war that has killed more than 100,000 people and now includes Hezbollah and al-Qaida.

He made no mention of the “red line” of chemical weapons use, which he marked out for Syrian President Bashar Assad a year ago and which U.S. intelligence says has been breached at least on a small scale several times since.

“If the U.S. goes in and attacks another country without a U.N. mandate and without clear evidence that can be presented, then there are questions in terms of whether international law supports it — do we have the coalition to make it work?” Obama said Friday. “Those are considerations that we have to take into account.”

The reported attack on Wednesday killed at least 100 people in a Damascus suburb.

Obama conceded in an interview on CNN's “New Day” program that the episode is a “big event of grave concern” that requires American attention. He said any large-scale chemical weapons usage would affect “core national interests” of the United States and its allies. But nothing he said signaled a shift toward U.S. action.

Even so, Defense officials said the Navy moved an additional warship into the eastern Mediterranean Sea, meaning it now has four destroyers in the region. Each can launch ballistic missiles.

There are no immediate orders for a missile launch into Syria, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to discuss ship movements publicly. But if the United States wants to send a message to Assad, the likeliest military action would be a missile strike, launched from a ship in the Mediterranean.

In his first comments on Syria since the alleged chemical attack, Obama said the United States is still trying to find out what happened.

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