US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton yesterday urged China, Russia and India to step up pressure on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, as his forces killed another 16 civilians in their brutal crackdown on protest.
Anti-regime protesters, meanwhile, were readying to flood the streets of Syria again after the Ramadan Friday prayers, setting the stage for further bloody confrontations.
Clinton, in an interview with CBS News broadcast on Thursday, suggested that China and India impose energy sanctions on Syria, while she urged Russia to stop selling arms to Damascus, which has bought arms from Moscow for decades.
“What we really need to do to put the pressure on Assad is to sanction the oil and gas industry. And we want to see Europe take more steps in that direction,” Clinton said.
“And we want China to take steps with us. We want to see India, because India and China have large energy investments inside of Syria. We want to see Russia cease selling arms to the Assad regime,” the top US diplomat said.
Her comments came as US officials said Washington has decided to call explicitly for Assad to step down.
The White House said US President Barack Obama and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip -Erdogan agreed during a phone call on Thursday on the need for a “transition to democracy” in Syria.
The Obama administration has been steadily ratcheting up pressure on Assad, who has been deaf to growing international calls to stop a crackdown that human rights groups say has killed more than 2,000 people since mid-March.
“The United States is looking to explicitly call for Assad to step down. The timing of that is still in question,” according to a US official who did not rule out that the announcement could come next week.
“It’s part of steps to increase the pressure given the ongoing brutality of the Assad regime,” the official said on the condition of anonymity.
Ignoring the growing international outrage, Assad pledged this week a relentless battle against “terrorist groups” Damascus says is fomenting a popular uprising across Syria.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on its Web site that a total of 2,150 people have been confirmed dead since the protests began in mid-March, including 1,744 civilians and 406 members of the security forces.
US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland meanwhile said the US ambassador in Damascus personally warned Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem on Thursday that Syria would face further sanctions if it did not stop killing protesters.
Robert Ford, the envoy who returned to Damascus last week after consultations in Washington, also urged Syria’s top diplomat to ensure journalists can cover the protests.
On top of earlier targeted measures against Assad, regime officials and others, the US on Wednesday imposed sanctions on the state-owned Commercial Bank of Syria and the largest mobile phone operator, Syriatel.