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Syria civil war rages: why Hillary Clinton is focused on what comes after

The US is eager to keep undesirable actors out of a post-Assad Syria, but when Hillary Clinton meets Saturday with senior Turkish officials and Syrian opposition figures, they'll want to discuss the raging civil war.

By Staff writer / August 10, 2012

In this July photo, US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius attend the 'Friends of Syria' conference in Paris. The United States is readying new sanctions on Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime and its allies as Clinton heads to Turkey on Friday for weekend talks with top Turkish officials and Syrian opposition activists.

Brendan Smialowski/AP/File

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Washington

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will meet in Turkey Saturday with senior Turkish officials and Syrian opposition figures, amid signs of deepening international involvement in the Syrian conflict.

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With events accelerating in Syria – from high-profile defections from the regime of President Bashar al-Assad to rebel progress in taking and holding territory – Secretary Clinton says her meetings in Turkey will focus on “the day after” Assad’s fall and how to help a post-Assad Syria avoid sectarian warfare, reprisal killings, and a rise in extremism.

Yet while Clinton says her discussions will focus on “what happens next,” the reality is that her interlocutors – both the Turks and the Syrian opposition – want to talk about what is happening now: a raging civil war that analysts say is taking an average of 200 lives a day and showing worrisome signs of engulfing the neighborhood.

“As the situation in Syria heats up, so does the region,” say Robert Danin, a senior fellow in Middle Eastern affairs at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) in Washington. Iran, he says, is just one country that has considerable stakes in Syria and will want to remain a player there.

Turkey does not want to get dragged into the Syrian conflict, but it is already dealing with thousands of refugees fleeing across its border and is concerned about the destabilizing aspects of a prolonged conflict next door.

Syria’s rebels have opened up a corridor from the embattled city of Aleppo to the Turkish border. But they say they need more and heavier arms to make further progress, and are pressing the United States to provide such weapons as anti-aircraft missiles for what some say could still be a long fight ahead.

The US currently is providing communications equipment, and some special operations forces are reported to be on the ground in Turkey – primarily to provide intelligence on Al Qaeda’s role in the anti-Assad rebellion and presumably to offer some assistance to the rebels. But so far the Obama administration has stopped short of a more robust intervention.

Clinton’s added stop in Turkey at the end of a 10-day swing through sub-Saharan Africa underscores the administration’s growing concerns in the face of evidence of growing involvement by outside players that the US would like to keep out of a post-Assad Syria.

On Thursday the US ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, described Iran’s role in Syria as “nefarious” for how it and its proxy, Hezbollah, are providing assistance to a regime that is massacring its own people.

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