POSTED: Monday, February 6, 2012 - 4:00pm
UPDATED: Monday, February 6, 2012 - 5:44pm
NBC NATIONAL NEWS — President Obama today shut down the American embassy in Syria, escalating U.S. pressure against Syrian strongman, Bashar Assad.
Obama is stepping up U.S. pressure due to the Syrian government stepped up its attacks on civilians. Hundreds were killed on Saturday, and even a makeshift medical clinic was shelled.
More than 5,000 Syrians have died in a year of unrest.
Today, the U.S. flag is down in Damascus. The embassy is closed.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney stated, "We're pursuing a variety of means to put pressure on the Assad regime."
President Obama said he does not want to use force, like he did to over throw Libyan dictator Moammar Khaddafy.
"I think it is very important for us to try to resolve this without military intervention, and I think that's possible," stated Obama.
But U.S. efforts to tighten Untied Nations sanctions against Assad were blocked, infuriating the U.S. ambassador.
On Iran, President Obama said he does not believe Israel is about to strike suspected nuclear sites. He does believe, however, Iranian leaders can be forced to back down through sanctions.
"My number one priority continues to be the security of the United States, but also the security of Israel," said Obama.
The new Washington Post poll finds 56 percent of Americans trust President Obama now on international affairs, which adds to his overall approval, now at 50 percent, in this election year.
I'm steve handelsman, nbc news, capitol hill.