WASHINGTON, Aug. 20 (UPI) -- U.S. President Barack Obama Monday said consultations with Syria's opposition are under way but he has "not ordered" any military engagement.
At a White House news conference, Obama again urged Syrian President Bashar Assad to step down because he "has lost legitimacy."
"The international community has sent a clear message that rather than drag his country into civil war he should move in the direction of a political transition. But at this point, the likelihood of a soft landing seems pretty distant," Obama said.
Obama said the United States has provided about $82 million in humanitarian aid so far and likely will contribute more but "I have, at this point, not ordered military engagement in the situation."
Obama said he is most concerned about Syria's chemical and biological weapons stockpile.
"That's an issue that doesn't just concern Syria; it concerns our close allies in the region, including Israel. It concerns us. We cannot have a situation where chemical or biological weapons are falling into the hands of the wrong people," Obama said, adding the situation remains "volatile."
"I wouldn't say that I am absolutely confident [the stockpile is safe]," Obama said. "What I'm saying is we're monitoring that situation very carefully. We have put together a range of contingency plans. We have communicated in no uncertain terms with every player in the region that that's a red line for us and that there would be enormous consequences if we start seeing movement on the chemical weapons front or the use of chemical weapons. That would change my calculations significantly."
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