US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Friday called for an escalation of diplomatic efforts against the Syrian regime in the form of “real and immediate consequences for non-compliance, including sanctions.”
“What can every nation and group represented here do?” Clinton asked at the opening of the so-called Friends of Syria conference, which is aimed at bolstering resistance to the Syrian government and pressing Syria’s allies to discuss transition strategies for the embattled country after 16 months of brutal crackdowns and civil war.
Clinton was joined in Paris by senior officials from about 100 other countries with the aim of winning wider support for a Syrian transition plan unveiled last week by UN mediator Kofi Annan.
But with neither Russia nor China in attendance, much remained dependent on persuading the two reluctant UN veto-wielding powers to force President Bashar Assad into abiding by a cease-fire and the transition strategy. Clinton urged governments around the world to direct their pressure toward Moscow and Beijing as well.
“I ask you to reach out to Russia and China, and to not only urge but demand that they get off the sidelines and begin to support the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people.
“I don’t think Russia and China believe they are paying any price at all — nothing at all — for standing up on behalf of the Assad regime,” she added. “The only way that will change is if every nation represented here directly and urgently makes it clear that Russia and China will pay a price. Because they are holding up progress, blockading it. That is no longer tolerable.”
Qatari Emir Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani suggested the group seek other paths for support, outside the UN Security Council, so that Russia and China do not stand in their way.
French President Francois Hollande called on Assad to put an end to the killings in Syria, step down, and pave the way for a new government in Damascus.
The situation in Syria “is a threat for international peace and security,” Hollande said. “Bashar Assad must leave. A transitional government should be formed. It’s in everyone’s interest.” He urged “real and effective” sanctions and called on all participants in the conference to pledge support for democratic opposition and organize effective humanitarian aid.
The Kremlin rejected the anti-Assad call on Friday, with Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying that Clinton’s comments contradicted Annan’s plan, which Washington and Moscow agreed to.
Despite limited space for action, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said, “We don’t rule out any option for the future because it is deteriorating.
“It is a murdering regime, so we want to see a peaceful transition,” he said, “but we are not ruling anything out.”
Yet Hassan Hashimi, the general secretary of the opposition Syrian National Council, said the international community was still moving too slowly. He called for a no-fly zone to prevent military forces from “flying over defected soldiers and civilians and bombarding them.”
Syrian rebels said sanctions weren’t working and expressed a preference for quick military action. New violence in Syria led many activists to dismiss the importance of the Paris meeting. Anti-regime activists say Syrian forces have killed at least 25 people, arrested scores more and torched dozens of homes while seizing the northern city of Khan Sheikhoun from rebels.
“We’re sick of meetings and deadlines. We want action on the ground,” said activist Osama Kayal, speaking via Skype from an area near Khan Sheikhoun.
In Paris, Burhan Ghalioun, former leader of the Syrian National Council, explained his frustration.
“I am not satisfied at all because the Syrians are not waiting for press communiques. What preoccupies the Syrians today is the way we can stop the massacre. Every day there are 100, 130, 150 victims and the people only think about that,” he said. “They want action. They want measures and (a) practical mechanism to stop the killings.”
But military intervention is not on the immediate horizon. US officials say they are focusing on economic pressure, and the Obama administration says it won’t intervene militarily or provide weapons to the Syrian rebels for what it considers to be an already too-militarized conflict. Any international mandate for military intervention would almost certainly be blocked by Russia and Moscow in the UN Security Council.
US officials say a UN resolution could be introduced next week, but one that only seeks further economic pressure on Assad’s government. Even the chances for that action are unclear, with Russia and China effectively watering down Annan’s blueprint for transition at a conference in Geneva last weekend. It granted Assad veto over any interim government candidate he opposes. The opposition gained the same power.
Activists say more than 14,000 people have been killed since the revolt began.