President Barack Obama has defended the use of drone attacks and announced a renewed push for closing the Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba. Meanwhile, Secretary of State John Kerry continues his Middle East tour.
Obama outlined his address at the National Defense University as an attempt to redefine the nature and scope of terror threats facing the United States.
"Neither I, nor any president, can promise the total defeat of terror," Obama said on Thursday in Washington. "What we can do - what we must do - is dismantle networks that pose a direct danger, and make it less likely for new groups to gain a foothold, all while maintaining the freedoms and ideals that we defend."
"Our nation is still threatened by terrorists," Obama commented "We must recognize however, that the threat has shifted and evolved from the one that came to our shores on 9/11."
Obama defended the use of drones, saying their targeted killings were both effective and legal. He acknowledged the civilian deaths that sometimes result and said he grapples with that trade-off. He said they were part of a just war against terrorism: "For me, and those in my chain of command, these deaths will haunt us as long as we live," he said. Before any strike, he said, "there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured - the highest standard we can set."
Under a new presidential guidance signed on Wednesday, Obama said the Defense Department would take the lead in launching drones, as opposed to the current practice of the CIA taking charge. The same day, the administration acknowledged that four Americans abroad had been killed in drone strikes since 2009, including militant cleric Anwar al-Awlaki.
Obama announced some steps on breaking the deadlock with Congress on closing the center on the Caribbean island of Cuba. The Defense Department is to identify a site to hold military tribunals for Guantanamo detainees: "Where appropriate, we will bring terrorists to justice in our courts and military justice system," he said.
He said he would pick a senior U.S. envoy to handle detainee transfers, a position that has vacant since January.
"There is no justification beyond politics for Congress to prevent us from closing a facility that should never have been opened," Obama said.
Kerry in the Middle East
Meanwhile, Secretary of State John Kerry on his fourth visit to the Middle East in as many months, admitted the difficulty of launching peace talks for a solution in Syria. "Nobody has any illusions about how difficult, complicated, what a steep climb that is," he said during a visit to Israel. "But we also understand that the killing that is taking place, the massacres that are taking place, the incredible destabilization of Syria, is spilling over into Lebanon, into Jordan, and has an impact, obviously, on Israel," he said.
jm/kms (Reuters, AFP, AP)