Obama, who has assured Arab leaders that the Arab revolt would not
hamper U.S. policy, was said to side with the Assad supporters in NSC and
the State Department. On April 12, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said
the administration, amid the Arab revolt, would launch another diplomatic
offensive to establish a Palestinian state throughout the West Bank, Middle East Newsline reported.
"The president will be speaking in greater detail about America's policy
in the Middle East and North Africa in the coming weeks," Ms. Clinton told
the U.S.-Islamic World Forum. "America's core interests and values have not
changed, including our commitment to promote human rights, resolve
long-standing conflicts, counter Iran's threats and defeat Al Qaida and its
extremist allies. This includes renewed pursuit of comprehensive
The White House was said to have assessed that Assad remained crucial
for U.S. policy in the Middle East. They said the Syrian president's ouster
could lead to either an Iranian takeover or that by Al Qaida-aligned
elements, both of whom would reject any U.S. initiative.
"There are indications that some of Obama's advisers are aware of the
need for change in Syria," former NSC member Michael Singh said. "However,
some argue that the problem is not President Bashar Assad, but rather the
old guard who were put in place by his father, [the late Syrian President]
Hafez Assad, and who he [Bashar] is surrounded by."
Singh, a researcher at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy,
told the Saudi newspaper A-Sharq Al Awsat that many in the White House have
been ignoring the rising opposition to Assad. He said some of Obama's
advisers wanted to improve relations with the Assad regime.
The analysts said the division within the White House has resulted in
conflicting statements regarding Assad's crackdown on the opposition, in
which more than 200 civilians have been killed. At one point, Ms. Clinton
referred to Assad as a reformer.
"Paralyzed by concerns of what comes next, the Obama administration —
like the Bush administration before it — continues to cling to the status
quo," former Pentagon official David Schenker said.
The U.S. intelligence community has determined that Iran was providing
significant help to Assad to quell the protests. At this point, however, the
Iranian help was limited to technology and equipment with little evidence of
that Iranian officers were actually participating in the crackdown on the
The sources said the administration has sought to use the Arab revolt to
prod Israel to make concessions to the Palestinian Authority over the next
few months. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was scheduled to meet
Obama in May.
"The status quo between Palestinians and Israelis is no more sustainable
than the political systems that have crumbled in recent months," Ms. Clinton
Opponents of the pro-Assad policy have warned that failure to move
forcefully against the Syrian regime would anger a range of Middle East
allies, particularly Saudi Arabia. They argued that the Saudis as well as
other Gulf Cooperation Council states viewed Assad as a puppet of Iran.
"The questions we're being asked is why the administration was so
gung-ho against [Egyptian President Hosni] Mubarak while we have been
hands-off regarding Assad," a congressional aide close to the administration
So far, the administration has been mulling a range of options toward
Assad. The sources said this included the imposition of U.S. sanctions on
Syria, although such an option was not preferred.
"President Assad and the Syrian government must respect the universal
rights of the Syrian people, who are rightly demanding the basic freedoms
that they have been denied," the White House said on April 12.