WASHINGTON, Aug. 28 (UPI) -- U.S. President Barack Obama spoke Thursday about a variety of issues, including conflicts in Iraq and Syria, the threat posed by the Islamic State, and Russian aggression toward Ukraine.
When asked about potential U.S. military action against IS elements in Syria, the president admitted "We don't have a strategy yet."
For now, his focus is on Iraq: "my priority is to make sure the gains that ISIL made in Iraq are rolled back and that Iraq has the opportunity to govern effectively and to secure itself."
Obama said he has asked his military advisers to provide him with possible options, cautioning "but I don't want to put the cart before the horse." Once a determination is made, he said he will consult Congress so that the American people can weigh in.
The Syria crisis is both a military and political issue, noting the "violence that's been taking place in Syria has obviously given ISIL a safe haven there in ungoverned spaces and in order to degrade ISIL over the long term, we are gonna have to build a regional strategy" that involves an "investment" by Sunni partners to successfully defeat IS.
Obama added that America will continue to support the moderate Syrian opposition so as to give the Syrian people an alternative to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the IS terrorists.
The president commended the U.S. pilots and crew involved in conducting airstrikes against IS targets in Iraq, which he said have successfully destroyed arms and equipment belonging to IS terrorists.
While U.S. action is important to protect American people, such as those at those at the U.S. consulate in Erbil, the president said that
"... our military action in Iraq has to be part of a broader comprehensive strategy to protect our people and to support our partners who are taking the fight to ISIL."
That broader strategy, he explained, encompasses support for Iraqi leaders as they work to form a united and inclusive government and strong regional partners who have so far demonstrated an increasing awareness of the destabilizing threat posed by IS. Obama said he has asked Secretary of State John Kerry to travel to the region to the Middle East "to continue to build the coalition needed to root out this threat."
The president has also tasked Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and the Joint Chiefs of Staff "to prepare a range of options" to counter the IS threat, adding that he has also been consulting with members of Congress and will continue to do so.
Obama said he spoke by phone with German Chancellor Angela Merkel earlier Thursday to discuss the ongoing crisis in Ukraine and reports of Russian forces moving into Ukraine.
"We agree -- if there was ever any doubt -- that Russia is responsible for the violence in eastern Ukraine. The violence is encouraged by Russia. The separatists are trained by Russia. They are armed by Russia. They are funded by Russia."
Referencing the below satellite imagery, Obama remarked that "the new images of Russian forces inside Ukraine make that plain for the world to see. This comes as Ukrainian forces are making progress against the separatists."
The president warned that Russia's continued escalatory actions will result in additional sanctions and international isolation, which he said would be coordinated with European allies and NATO colleagues.