U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates Photo by AP
Text size

U.S. and British defense chiefs played down on Tuesday the possibility of a Libya-style intervention in Syria, with Britain's Liam Fox saying there were "practical limitations" to Western military power.

Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad are accused of killing hundreds of protesters in an effort to quash demands for an end to his autocratic rule.

But Assad has been spared the threat of NATO air strikes like the ones pounding Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi's forces with the U.N.-backed objective of protecting civilians.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Fox condemned the killings in Syria. But Fox made clear the two countries' militaries, already stretched by campaigns in Afghanistan and Libya, could only do so much.

"We can't do everything all the time and we have to recognize that there are practical limitations to what our countries can do," said Fox, who along with Gates was asked about the lack of Western intervention in Syria.

Gates said he agreed with "everything Dr. Fox said."

Acknowledging differences in the Obama administration's response to uprisings across the Arab world, Gates said the United States applied its values to all countries in the region, supporting the right to peaceful protest. But he said U.S. actions would not always be the same.

"Our response in each country will have to be tailored to that country and to the circumstances peculiar to that country," Gates told reporters.

The comments came as the United States and Britain considered sanctions as the response to unrest in Syria, and as Assad sent tanks to crush a revolt in the city of Deraa where the country's uprising first started.

"At present the options that we are focused on are diplomatic and financial options," said Jake Sullivan, the U.S. State Department's director of policy planning. He stopped short of saying it was time for Assad to go.