Clinton calls for stronger reaction to Syria's Assad
Hillary Clinton has called for “friends of democratic Syria” to unite against President Bashar al-Assad following China and Russia’s veto of a tougher UN response to his regime, which she described as a “travesty”.
Speaking in Sofia a day after the collapse of the UN Security Council resolution, the US secretary of state said the international community had a duty to halt ongoing bloodshed and promote a political transition that would see Assad step down. She said the “friends of Syria” should work together to promote those ends.
Clinton was harshly critical of Saturday’s veto by Russia and China that blocked UN action against the continuing violence in Syria. “What happened yesterday at the United Nations was a travesty,” she said.
“Faced with a neutered Security Council, we have to redouble our efforts outside of the United Nations with those allies and partners who support the Syrian people’s right to have a better future,” Clinton told reporters after meeting top Bulgarian officials.
The creation of a formal group of like-minded nations to coordinate assistance for Syria’s opposition, similar to the Contact Group on Libya that oversaw international aid for opponents of Muammar Gaddafi, is possible.
However, in the case of Libya, the group also coordinated Nato military operations to protect Libyan civilians, something that is not envisioned in Syria.
US officials said a group would work to further squeeze the Assad regime by enhancing sanctions, unite disparate opposition groups inside and outside the country and provide humanitarian relief.
William Hague earlier described the Syrian regime as “doomed” and “murdering” and warned that the country was moving closer to an all-out civil war following the collapse of the UN’s diplomatic effort.
The UK foreign secretary said hopes now rested on the Arab League to increase pressure for political change in the light of this weekend’s setback.
“This is a doomed regime as well as a murdering regime. There is no way it can get its credibility back either internationally or with its own people,” Hague said on Sky News.
“Because the regime is so intransigent, because it is conducting 10 months unmitigated violence and repression—more than 6 000 killed with 12 000 or 14 000 in detention and subject to every kind of torture and abuse—it is driving some opponents to violent action themselves. That is tipping Syria closer to something that begins to look like a civil war,” he said.
In Syria, dozens were reported killed on Saturday in one of the bloodiest days since protests began last March. Rebel groups and opposition activists said the regime launched an assault on the city of Homs on Friday night using mortar and tanks to bombard civilian areas.
One opposition group said it had confirmed 62 deaths in Homs, while other organisations gave death tolls in excess of 200.
Hague, said that Russia and China’s veto had emboldened Assad’s position. “I think Russia and China do bear increased responsibility and that means in the Middle East and Arab world there will be a great deal of anger at the positions that Russia and China have taken.
“This underlines the need for a political transition and in our view for Assad to go, or in the plan of the Arab League to hand over to his deputy and form a unity government. That’s a sensible way forward,” he said.
He said, however, that he would continue to work alongside the Russian and Chinese governments, and planned to contact Russia’s foreign minister when he returns from a visit to Syria later this week.
“We will continue to work with Russia and China on this. We want them to change their position,” Hague said.
Asked about plans by Arab countries to expel Syrian diplomats, Hague said that Britain’s diplomatic options were constantly being reviewed but any announcement would first be made to Parliament.
“We haven’t taken any decisions to sever our diplomatic links at the moment but the Arab League is playing a very strong role ... This is the main way forward now, for the Arab League to pursue their plan because they don’t need the UN to do that although it would have been good to have had a clear mandate from the United Nations.
“They should pursue their plan and intensify their own pressure on the Assad regime to stop the killing and allow a peaceful political transition.”
Hague said the UK had reduced its embassy operations in Syria to an absolute minimum and reiterated the government’s position of ruling out military intervention, stressing the differences with last year’s regime change in Libya.
“In Libya we had the authority of the UN to take all necessary measures. Given what has happened this weekend, we could not pass such a resolution.
Secondly, the consequences would be far more difficult to foresee in Syria than they were in the relatively straight forward Libya because of the knock on effects across the region. Thirdly it would have to be on a dramatically bigger scale in Syria in order to be effective,” he said.
The Sino-Russian veto was intended to promote a political settlement, China’s state news agency Xinhua said in an article today.
It “aimed at further seeking peaceful settlement of the chronic Syrian crisis and preventing possible drastic and risky solutions to it,” the piece said.
“With the veto, Russia and China believed more time and patience should be given to a political solution ... which would prevent the Syrian people from more turbulence and fatalities.”
The opposition Syrian National Council condemned Moscow and Beijing for obstructing the passage of the draft resolution.
The veto drew an angry response from Washington’s UN envoy Susan Rice, who wrote on Twitter that she was disgusted and said Russia and China would have blood on their hands.
The Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, criticised the UN resolution, saying it made too few demands of anti-government armed groups and could prejudge the outcome of a dialogue among political forces in the country.
Russian news agencies reported that Lavrov and Russia’s foreign intelligence chief, Mikhail Fradkov, would meet Assad in Damascus on Tuesday.
Syria has been a key Russian ally since the Soviet era and Moscow has opposed any UN demands that could be interpreted as advocating military intervention or regime change.
Earlier on Saturday, Tunisia decided to expel Syria’s ambassador in response to the “bloody massacre” in Homs and said it no longer recognised the Assad regime. As news of the violence spread, a crowd of Syrians stormed their country’s embassy in Cairo and protests broke out outside missions in Britain, Germany and the US.—