Mon, Apr 02, 2012 - Page 1 News List

‘Friends of Syria’ try to twist screw on al-Assad

Reuters, ISTANBUL, TURKEY

Western and Arab nations sought to exert more pressure on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad yesterday, mistrusting his acceptance of a plan to end a year of bloodshed, but were not expected to arm rebels or fully recognize an opposition council.

Opening a “Friends of Syria” conference in Istanbul, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan told foreign ministers and other officials from about 70 countries that the “legitimate demands of the Syrian people must be met, right here, right now.”

In her prepared remarks, US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton urged members of al-Assad’s government to halt operations targeting civilians or face “serious consequences.”

She said the US was providing communications gear among other aid to Syria’s civilian opposition and denounced al-Assad for failing to follow through on his agreement to a peace plan proposed by UN-Arab League special envoy Kofi Annan.

“Nearly a week has gone by, and we have to conclude that the regime is adding to its long list of broken promises,” Clinton said.

The US and its Gulf Arab allies, suspecting al-Assad of playing for time, urged former UN secretary-general Annan on Saturday to set a timeline for “next steps” if there was no ceasefire.

A Western diplomat said the Friends of Syria would declare support for Annan’s mission, but stressed it cannot be open-ended.

The diplomat said their communique would promise additional measures to protect the Syrian people, and say the UN Security Council, where Russia and China have twice blocked resolutions on Syria, should play an important role in ending the conflict.

“The wording is constructively ambiguous,” the diplomat said.

Syrian media derided the Istanbul meeting, which the regime newspaper described as “a regional and international scramble to find ways of killing more Syrians and destroying their society and country, to reach the broad goal of weakening Syria.”

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