|Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki (L) and U.S. President Barack Obama hold a joint news conference in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next to the White House in Washington D.C., the U.S., Dec. 12, 2011. President Obama and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki spoke to journalists after a meeting at the White House, in which the two leaders discussed ongoing relations after the last U.S. forces depart. (Xinhua/Fang Zhe)
WASHINGTON, Dec. 12 (Xinhua) -- U.S. President Barack Obama on Monday defended the tough sanctions imposed by the U.S. and its allies on Syria and their call for Syrian President Bashar Assad to step down, while visiting Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki did not endorse the blockade of its neighbor, voicing concern about security of the region.
"I do believe that President Assad missed an opportunity to reform his government, chose the path of repression, and has continued to engage in repressive tactics so that his credibility, his capacity to regain legitimacy inside Syria I think is deeply eroded," Obama said at a joint press conference with al-Maliki after talks at the White House.
"But we believe that international pressure, the approach we've taken along with partners around the world to impose tough sanctions and to call on Assad to step down, a position that is increasingly mirrored by the Arab League states, is the right position to take," the president added.
He acknowledged "tactical disagreements" between Iraq and the United States over how to deal with Syria.
Saying he honors "the aspirations of the Syrian people," al- Maliki stated that "I do not have the right to ask a president to abdicate."
"I'm concerned about the interest of Iraq and the interest of the security of the region, and I wish that what is required by the Syrian people would be achieved without affecting the security of Iraq," he said.
"Frankly speaking, because we suffered from the blockade and the military interventions, we do not encourage a blockade because it exhausts the people and the government," the prime minister said.
"I believe that the parties, all the parties realize the dangers of a sectarian war in Iraq, in Syria, and in the region, because it will be like a snowball that it will expand and it will be difficult to control," he added.
Having close ties with its western neighbor, Iraq abstained on Nov. 27 when the Arab League voted on targeted sanctions against Syria due to its crackdown on protests that have engulfed the country since mid-March.
Concerns about Iraq's security situation linger as the remaining U.S. troops are scheduled to pull out of the country by the end of this year, marking the end of a nearly 9-year-old bloody war.
With talks aiming to cement bilateral relations in a postwar era, Obama and al-Maliki pledged to build a long-term and comprehensive partnership between their countries.