WASHINGTON — 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.
Obama said confronting the Islamic State militants requires a regional strategy with support from other countries in the region. He said it's time for states in the region 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 United States already is striking Islamic State targets in Iraq, and officials have said the president is considering similar action in neighboring Syria. 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 Irbil 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.
However, the president did not commit to seeking a vote from Congress if he were to decide to proceed with military action.
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson said Thursday he believes the U.S. military should target the leadership of the Islamic State and will propose doing so later when the Senate takes up the next defense spending bill later this year.
"We've got a real problem with ISIS, and we need to go get them now because if we don't now we'll have to deal with them in the future," said Nelson, D-Florida. "This is a group that knows no boundaries of human decency — The head of the snake is in Syria, and if you want to kill the snake, you need to cut off its head."
He added, "The next step is to get the pinpoints through our intelligence of who we need … to put in the crosshairs."
Times staff writer William R. Levesque contributed to this report.