Obama on Middle East: "We support the Syrian opposition, reject agenda of terrorist networks"
U.S. President Barack Obama on Tuesday reaffirmed American support for Syrian opposition groups attempting to overthrow Syrian President Bashar Al Assad, on the provision that they also reject terrorism.
Speaking in his annual State of the Union speech on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C., Obama added that Syrians deserve a future that is free of dictatorship, terror and fear.
“In Syria, we will support the opposition that rejects the agenda of terrorist networks,” he said.
Obama said it was American diplomacy and the threat of force which led to the plan to eliminate Syria's deadly stockpile of chemical weapons.
“American diplomacy, backed by the threat of force, is why Syria’s chemical weapons are being eliminated,” he said.
Negotiations between the Syrian regime and the opposition in Geneva were stalled on Tuesday amid mutual accusations and the government’s anger over the resumption of U.S. aid to the opposition.
American officials said Monday the U.S. has restarted deliveries of nonlethal aid to the Syrian opposition, more than a month after Al Qaeda-linked militants seized warehouses and prompted a sudden cutoff of Western supplies to the rebels.
But speaking on America's arch-foe al-Qaeda, Obama clarified that the U.S. must remain cautious against the terror network as it takes root across the Mideast and North Africa.
"America can no longer expect to be safe by pursuing overseas terror networks through war - or even through widespread airstrikes that have been a hallmark of the U.S. fight against extremists," he added.
Obama also called on Congress to lift restrictions on transferring Al Qaeda and Taliban detainees held at the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and finally close the prison.
"This needs to be the year Congress lifts the remaining restrictions on detainee transfers and we close the prison at Guantanamo Bay," Obama said. "Because we counter terrorism not just through intelligence and military action, but by remaining true to our constitutional ideals and setting an example for the rest of the world."
The effort to close Guantanamo is a critical part of Obama's broader drive to roll back some of controversial aspects of the global fight against Islamist militants as he presses ahead with plans to formally end the long, unpopular war in Afghanistan by the end of the year.
“But if Iran's leaders do seize the chance, then Iran could take an important step to rejoin the community of nations, and we will have resolved one of the leading security challenges of our time without the risks of war,” Obama said.
He added that an interim agreement seeking to curb Iran's nuclear program was already taking effect, and the ongoing diplomacy was important for U.S. safety.
“The sanctions that we put in place helped make this opportunity possible. But let me be clear: if this Congress sends me a new sanctions bill now that threatens to derail these talks, I will veto it,” he said.