President Obama on Friday said he feels responsible for the situation in Syria, but insisted there was no way to intervene "on the cheap."
He rattled off a list of factors that complicated his administration's decision on what to do, noting that in addition to Russia's stake in keeping the Syrian regime in place, there was little public appetite for putting large numbers of US troops on the ground given the trillions of dollars already spent on years of war.
"In that circumstance, unless we were all in and going to take over Syria, we were going to have problems," he told reporters at the White House. "We wanted to do something, and it sounded like the right thing to do, but it was going to be impossible to do this on the cheap."
Obama also had harsh words for the Assad regime and its allies, Russia and Iran, accusing them of slaughtering civilians.
"We have seen a deliberate strategy of surrounding, besieging and starving innocent civilians," Obama said. "Responsibility for this brutality lies in one place alone: the Assad regime and its allies, Russia and Iran. The blood for these atrocities are on their hands."
He added that the Assad regime "cannot slaughter its way to legitimacy."
The biggest priority was to get tens of thousands of civilians trapped in Eastern Aleppo out, Obama said. He suggested that a short-term solution would be for Russia to be "willing to find some arrangement, perhaps in coordination with Turkey, whereby those people can be safe."
"Unfortunately, we are not there yet because right now we have Russians and Assad claiming that basically all the innocent civilians who were trapped in Aleppo are out when international organizations, humanitarian organizations who know better and who are on the ground, have said unequivocally that there are still tens of thousands who are trapped and prepared to leave under pretty much any conditions," Obama said. "And so right now our biggest priority is to continue to put pressure wherever we can to try to get them out.
Obama called for an international observers to oversee the situation and for an orderly evacuation and full access to humanitarian aid for those trapped in Eastern Aleppo.
He also blamed Russia for repeatedly blocking the UN Security Council on Syrian humanitarian issues, and said the Syrian regime wanted to "obfuscate the truth."
"The world should not be fooled and the world will not forget," Obama said.
Tasneem Nashrulla is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Tasneem Nashrulla at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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