Obama tamps down prospect of strikes in Syria

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Obama tamps down prospect of strikes in Syria
President Barack Obama gestures in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014, where he spoke about the economy, Iraq, and Ukraine, before convening a meeting with his national security team on the militant threat in Syria and Iraq. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Barack Obama speaks about the economy, Iraq, and Ukraine, Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014, in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, before convening a meeting with his national security team on the militant threat in Syria and Iraq. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
President Barack Obama speaks about the economy, Iraq, and Ukraine, Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014, in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, before convening a meeting with his national security team on the militant threat in Syria and Iraq. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
President Barack Obama smiles in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014, where he spoke about the economy, Iraq, and Ukraine, before convening a meeting with his national security team on the militant threat in Syria and Iraq. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Barack Obama listens to a question in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014, where he spoke about the economy, Iraq, and Ukraine, before convening a meeting with his national security team on the militant threat in Syria and Iraq. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Barack Obama takes questions in the James Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House in Washington, Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014, before convening a meeting with his national security team on the militant threat in Syria and Iraq. Obama also spoke about the economy and Ukraine. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
President Barack Obama gestures in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014, where he spoke about the economy, Iraq, and Ukraine, Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014, before convening a meeting with his national security team on the militant threat in Syria and Iraq. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Barack Obama pauses in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014, where he spoke about the economy, Iraq, and Ukraine, before convening a meeting with his national security team on the militant threat in Syria and Iraq. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Barack Obama takes questions in the James Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House in Washington, Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014, before convening a meeting with his national security team on the militant threat in Syria and Iraq. Obama also spoke about the economy and Ukraine. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
President Barack Obama leaves the podium after speaking in the James Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House in Washington, Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014, before convening a meeting with his national security team on the militant threat in Syria and Iraq. Obama also spoke about the economy and Ukraine. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
President Barack Obama speaks in the James Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House in Washington, Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014, before convening a meeting with his national security team on the militant threat in Syria and Iraq. Obama also spoke about the economy and Ukraine. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
President Barack Obama speaks in the James Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House in Washington, Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014, before convening a meeting with his national security team on the militant threat in Syria and Iraq. Obama also spoke about the economy and Ukraine. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
People chant anti-terrorism slogans during gathering to protest the Islamic State group's blockade on Amirli at Tahrir Square in Baghdad, Iraq, Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014. As the Obama administration considers a humanitarian relief operation in northern Iraq, the U.S. Central Command has announced three more airstrikes targeting the Islamic State group. (AP Photo/ Hadi Mizban)
People chant anti-terrorism slogans during gathering to protest the Islamic State's blockade on Amirli at Tahrir Square in Baghdad, Iraq, Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014. As the Obama administration considers a humanitarian relief operation in northern Iraq, the U.S. Central Command has announced three more airstrikes targeting the Islamic State group. ( AP Photo/ Hadi Mizban)
People chant anti-terrorism slogans during gathering to protest the Islamic State group's blockade on Amirli at Tahrir Square in Baghdad, Iraq, Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014. As the Obama administration considers a humanitarian relief operation in northern Iraq, the U.S. Central Command has announced three more airstrikes targeting the Islamic State group. (AP Photo/ Hadi Mizban)
People chant anti-terrorism slogans during gathering to protest the Islamic State's blockade on Amirli at Tahrir Square in Baghdad, Iraq, Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014. As the Obama administration considers a humanitarian relief operation in northern Iraq, the U.S. Central Command has announced three more airstrikes targeting the Islamic State group. (AP Photo/ Hadi Mizban)
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By JULIE PACE

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama played down the prospect of imminent U.S. military action in Syria on Thursday, saying "we don't have a strategy yet" for degrading the violent militant group seeking to establish a caliphate in the Middle East.

The president spoke shortly before convening a meeting of his national security advisers on a range of Pentagon options for confronting the Islamic State group. However, he said his strategy would require more than military action and called for a regional strategy that includes political support from other countries in the region.

In blunt terms, the president said it was time for Middle Eastern nations to "stop being ambivalent" about the aims of extremist groups like the Islamic State.

"They have no ideology beyond violence and chaos and the slaughter of innocent people," Obama said, alluding to the group's announcement last week that it had killed American journalist James Foley. The militants also have threatened to kill other U.S. hostages.

The U.S. already is striking Islamic State targets in Iraq, and officials have said the president is considering similar action in neighboring Syria in the wake of Foley's death. The militants have moved with ease between the two countries, effectively blurring the border.

However, the president said Thursday that his top priority remains rolling back the militants' gains in Iraq, where he has said they pose a threat to U.S. personnel in Erbil and Baghdad. Obama said that if he were to expand that military mission, he would consult with members of Congress, who are due to return to Washington in early September.

"The suggestion has been that we'll start moving forward imminently and somehow Congress, still out of town, will be left in the dark," Obama said. "That's not what's going to happen."

However, the president did not commit to seeking a vote from Congress if he were to decide to proceed with military action. One year ago, Obama was on the verge of taking strikes against the Syrian government it retaliation for its use of chemical weapons, but abruptly shifted course and decided to seek congressional approval.

The surprise move threw his policy into chaos. Congress balked at Obama's request for a vote, contributing to his decision to ultimately scrap the strikes. The White House said it also abandoned plans to take military action after Syria agreed to give up its chemical weapons stockpiles.

This time, with the midterm elections just over two months away, lawmakers may be even less inclined to take a politically risky vote on military action.

"I see no reason to come to Congress because, if he does, it'll just become a circus," Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., said this week.

There are some notable exceptions in both parties. Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, a frequent critic of the administration's foreign policy, has said Congress should "certainly" authorize any military action in Syria. Sen. Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat and White House ally, has also called for a vote on the president's broader strategy for going after the Islamic State.

"I am calling for the mission and objectives for this current significant military action against ISIL to be made clear to Congress, the American people, and our men and women in uniform," said Kaine, using one of the acronyms for the militant group. "Congress should vote up or down on it."

Unpacking Obama's No Strategy Comment On Combating ISIS

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