REUTERS - President Barack Obama said on Thursday the United States was ready to send up to 300 military advisers to Iraq and was prepared to make targeted strikes in the country to combat an extremist insurgency.
Obama said American forces would not be returning to combat in Iraq. He said Secretary of State John Kerry would leave this weekend for meetings in the Middle East and Europe.
Obama urged Iraq leaders to rise above their differences and come together for a political solution to the crisis.
Obam said Iran can play a constructive role in Iraq if it follows the U.S. lead in pressing for all sides within Iraq to be respected. He said the U.S. had pressed Tehran not to encourage steps that would lead to civil war within Iraq.
Obama spoke about the situation in Iraq after a meeting with his national security team at the White House. The U.S. president has been deliberating whether to authorize U.S. air strikes to help stop the insurgency.
The United States, which invaded Iraq in 2003 to topple President Saddam Hussein and withdrew its troops in 2011, has said Iraq's government must take steps toward sectarian reconciliation before Obama will decide on any military action against the insurgency led by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, an Al-Qaida splinter group.
Obama said ISIS poses a threat to the Iraqi people, the region and U.S. interests. Although Obama said the U.S. would be prepared to take targeted military action in Iraq, he said that U.S. troops will not be returning to combat there.
The United States is flying F-18 attack aircraft launched from the carrier USS George H.W. Bush on missions over Iraq to conduct surveillance of insurgents who have seized part of the country, a U.S. official said on Thursday.
U.S. officials have said while Obama is considering manned or unmanned air strikes, Washington lacks the kind of precise intelligence it needs to conduct the strikes effectively.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in an interview with NBC News that aired on Thursday the United States is interested in communicating with Iran to share information about the insurgency. But he said Washington was not seeking to work together with Tehran to address the crisis.
Obama ended the U.S.-led combat mission in Iraq, fulfilling a 2008 campaign promise, and has ruled out sending troops back to the country.