The US and its international allies yesterday called for new, global sanctions against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, seeking to step up the pressure after the defection of a top general dealt a major blow to the Syrian leader.
Washington urged countries around the world to demand that Russia and China force al-Assad to leave power.
Syrian Brigadier General Manaf Tlass, a member of the elite Republican Guards and a son of a former defense minister, abandoned al-Assad’s regime, according to Western officials. It was the highest profile departure in 16 months of brutal government crackdowns and civil war that activists say has killed more than 14,000 people.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Tlass had defected and was en route to France, where he has a sister and where world diplomats met yesterday to bolster the Syrian opposition. Later, Fabius backtracked, saying he was not sure of Tlass’ final destination.
A member of Syria’s opposition National Council, Hassem Hashimi, described Tlass as a powerful figure in the al-Assad regime.
“The defection of Tlass will encourage a lot of similar people to defect as well,” he said.
US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton joined senior officials from about 100 other countries in Paris to win wider support for a Syrian transition plan unveiled last week by UN mediator Kofi Annan. Joined by US allies, she called for “real and immediate consequences for non-compliance, including sanctions,” against the al-Assad regime.
However, with neither Moscow nor Beijing in attendance, much remained dependent on persuading the two reluctant UN veto-wielding powers to force al-Assad into abiding by a ceasefire and the transition strategy. Clinton urged governments around the world to direct their pressure toward Russia and China as well.
“What can every nation and group represented here do?” Clinton asked. “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 al-Assad regime,” she said.
“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,” she said.
In Paris, Burhan Ghalioun, former leader of the Syrian National Council, explain his frustration after the conference.
“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 practical mechanism to stop the killings.”