By Scott Stearns
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says it is “intolerable” that Russia and China continue to block a peaceful resolution of the crisis in Syria by backing President Bashar al-Assad. Secretary Clinton told a Paris meeting of governments supporting Assad opponents that the United Nations should impose economic sanctions against Damascus.
Secretary Clinton says it is not enough for the so-called Friends of the Syrian People to support Assad opponents when Russia and China are “holding up progress.”
“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,” Clinton said. “It is frankly not enough just to come to the Friends of the Syrian People because I will tell you very frankly, 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.”
Russia and China have repeatedly vetoed tougher U.N. Security Council action against Syria. But they have agreed to the authority of an eventual transitional governing body for the country, something that Secretary Clinton says should be part of a new resolution demanding implementation of a U.N./Arab League peace plan.
“We now have them on record supporting a transition,” Clinton added. “And we should go back and ask for a resolution in the Security Council that imposes real and immediate consequences for non-compliance, including sanctions under Chapter 7.”
Senior U.S. officials traveling with Secretary Clinton say that Chapter 7 resolution will not include U.N. troops, but will focus instead on unified international economic sanctions. Past enthusiasm for a weapons embargo is waning amid questions about enforcing compliance by Russian and Iran as well as concern about its potential impact on the armed opposition.
Russia and China are not part of these talks in Paris, which include representatives from nearly 100 countries, including some 40 foreign ministers.
Since Russia and China agreed to the authorities of a transitional government at a meeting in Geneva last week, there have been conflicting interpretations about whether that deal means President Assad must give up power.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says the Geneva agreement imposes nothing on the Syrian people as it puts no preconditions on national dialogue and excludes no one from the process.
Speaking in Paris Friday, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said President Assad and some of the countries who met in Geneva are mistakenly interpreting his future.
“Transition involves change,” said Davutoglu. “Why do we need a transition government? We need a transition government because the existing government is not legitimate, is not efficient to control the country and to lead a transitional process.”
Davutoglu says delaying the process increases the danger and allows the Assad government to kill more people.
The United Nations says there are more than one million Syrians in need of urgent humanitarian assistance. Reading a statement from U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, assistant secretary general for political affairs Oscar Fernandez-Taranco says the Syrian conflict is at a critical stage.
“Killings, abductions, and kidnappings have also become increasingly inter-communal, threatening to erode the very fabric of Syrian society,” noted Fernandez-Taranco. “A sectarian civil war in Syria would be devastating for Syria and for the region.”
The head of the U.N. monitoring mission in Syria, Major General Robert Mood, says violence has reached “unprecedented” levels and there must a cease-fire before unarmed observer teams can resume their mission.