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Obama vague on influence in Syria

| Thursday, May 16, 2013, 7:48 p.m.

WASHINGTON — President Obama said on Thursday he reserved the right to resort to both diplomatic and military options to pressure Syrian President Bashar Assad, but insisted that U.S. action alone would not be enough to resolve the Syrian crisis.

Taking a cautious line at a joint news conference with Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, Obama voiced hope that the United States and Russia would succeed in arranging an international peace conference on Syria, despite signs of growing obstacles.

Erdogan had been expected to push Obama, at least in private, for more assertive action on Syria during a visit to Washington this week, days after car bombs tore through a Turkish border town in the deadliest spillover of violence yet.

Obama — who has been reluctant to arm Syrian rebels or become enmeshed militarily in the conflict — made no mention of deeper engagement in Syria during an appearance at the White House, where the leaders sought to project a united front.

“What we have to do is apply steady international pressure,” Obama said.

Both leaders stressed the need to bring the Syrian government and opposition to the negotiating table after more than two years of fighting that has killed more than 80,000 people and risks destabilizing the volatile Middle East.

But Russia's insistence that Iran, a U.S. foe and Assad supporter, take part in any international talks on Syria could further complicate efforts to organize the meeting.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Tehran must have a role in the conference, but that Western states wanted to limit the participants and possibly predetermine the outcome of the talks.

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