The White House on Wednesday said that the time was wrong "right now" for arming the opposition in Syria — effectively leaving the door wide open to that option in the future.
"We don't believe that military action is the right course -- contributing to the militarization of Syria -- is the right path right now," spokesman Jay Carney told reporters at his daily briefing.
"We don't rule out additional measures if the international community waits too long and doesn't act decisively. But I'm not hinting at imminent action or change," he said. "Right now we believe that the appropriate action is a diplomatic, economic approach, the likes of which we're taking."
His comments came amid calls from some quarters for the United States and its allies to consider arming the opposition to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose bloody crackdown on demonstrations against his regime has outraged many in Washington and Europe as well as some of Syria's neighbors.
"Again, we're not ruling stuff out in the future, ruling actions out in the future. But right now, we believe that the right approach is not to contribute to the militarization, and to pursue a path of pressuring Assad, isolating Assad, and furthering along the process that will ultimately lead to him stepping down or no longer being in power," Carney said.
The US and its partners have struggled to find a clear way forward since Russia and China vetoed a UN Security Council resolution aimed at ending the bloodshed.
"We will continue to enhance the pressure on Assad, continue to help the opposition become more functional, continue to work to bring humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people, and continue to call on the international community collectively to take greater action to pressure Assad and to force him to relinquish power so that the Syrian people can have the democratic future that they deserve," said Carney.
But Carney played down any talk of military intervention, either in direct support of the outgunned opposition, or to carve out a "safe haven" where they might be protected from Assad's forces.
"In terms of a military action to secure a part of the country, that is not currently a policy we're pursuing," he said.
Carney also said that "certainly Syria is different from Libya," where the administration backed NATO-led air strikes that ultimately helped rebels topple the regime of Moammar al-Gadhafi.
"What we had in Libya when there was outside military intervention was a unified international community, a call for intervention by the Libyan people, the prospect of an immediate assault by Gadhafi's forces on an entire city, Benghazi, and the possibility that international military action could halt that and could limit or prevent the deaths of many, many thousands of Libyans," he said.
"It is important to not have a one-size-fits-all approach," Carney emphasized.
The State Department on Tuesday hinted that if current efforts to negotiate an end to the violence in Syria failed, other measures would be considered.
"We believe that a political solution to this is the best way to go," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told journalists. "From our perspective, we don't believe that it makes sense to contribute now to the further militarization of Syria. What we don't want to see is the spiral of violence increase.
"That said, if we can't get Assad to yield to the pressure that we are all bringing to bear, we may have to consider additional measures," Nuland continued, adding "As you know, we never take anything off the table."
Laura Rozen contributed reporting to this story.
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- Jay Carney