Clinton calls for more international action against Syria's Assad

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sought to bolster America's largely symbolic sanctions. But while Syrian allies such as Russia have lobbied hard for reforms, few appear eager to apply sanctions.

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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last night called on other countries to follow the US lead in sanctioning Syria, seeking to bolster America's largely symbolic move against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

Washington ratcheted up the pressure Wednesday night by placing fresh sanctions on Syria's main bank and the telecommunications industry. But the US has few economic ties with Syria and thus little leverage in practice.

"We're going to sanction, and we have been upping the sanctions. We're going to continue to do so," said Mrs. Clinton in a CBS interview. "But we want others to follow, because Syria [is] not one of our major economic partners."

Secretary Clinton called for sanctions from European, regional, and Asian economic partners – particularly those with hefty investments in Syria oil and gas industry – saying they were crucial for ending Mr. Assad's violent crackdown on a five-month uprising against his authoritarian rule.

President Barack Obama spoke with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, Syria's largest trading partner, on Thursday and the two agreed that the two countries would work together closely as they decide future steps on Syria. According to the Washington Post, the two said the violence must cease immediately and that demands for a democratic transition have to be met.

Earlier this week, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu traveled to Damascus in a last-ditch effort to persuade its one-time ally to refrain from violence. He gave Mr. Assad less than two weeks to meet international demands for democratic reform, Lebanon's Daily Star reports.

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu reportedly informed Assad of the need to implement an internationally drafted plan for reforms, a plan that carried a ten-day deadline. Otherwise, Western powers would consider passing a U.N. Security Council resolution that could pave the way for military action in Syria, similar to Libya.

The reforms would include the approval of a new electoral law under which all parties and factions would participate in the polls, without threats or intervention from security forces, the sources added.

Russia also pressured Damascus this week to make good on promised reforms.

"What we are telling them is that they need to have serious reforms as soon as possible, even though we do realize that it takes time, especially in a dramatic situation like this, you simply cannot carry out reforms overnight," said Russia's ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, on Wednesday night.

But as a veto-wielding member of the Security Council, Russia has rejected sanctions against Syria – including a weapons sales ban suggested by Clinton – and shows no sign of a change of heart, Reuters reports.

Veto powers Russia and China, backed by India, South Africa and Brazil, have vehemently opposed the idea of slapping UN sanctions on Damascus, which Western diplomats say would be the logical next step for Syria.

Council diplomats said there were no signs that the five so-called BRICS nations have altered their positions despite the five-month crackdown by Syrian security forces on protesters in cities across the country.

Three of the BRICS – Brazil, India, and South Africa – also sent representatives to Damascus this week. Assad acknowledged wrongdoing and set a timeline for reform, the Hindustan Times reports.

Syrian president Bashar al Assad on Wednesday told a delegation of officials from India, Brazil and South Africa his security forces did make "some mistakes" in the initial stages of unrest, but he was now committed to multi-party democracy.

Assad told the delegation the necessary constitutional revision would be completed by February-March 2012, according to a joint statement by the three countries. The Syrians also said elections will be held in 2011.

BBC News reports that Assad's forces launched fresh assaults on protesters today, including in a town near the Turkish border – heightening concerns of a fresh wave of refugees. Eight more people were killed, activists said.

Turkish newspaper Today's Zaman reports that the country is bracing for as many as 17,000 Syrian refugees to flood across its border, in addition to more than 7,000 who are already in Turkey. In preparation, the country has summoned all military officers who retired in the last five years and posted them in the provinces along the border. A coordination center for a potential refugee crisis has been set up by Ankara.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based organization with an Arabic-only website, reports that more than 2,000 people have been killed – nearly 20 percent of them soldiers, writes the Daily Star.

The Observatory said on its website 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.

In a commentary for Al Jazeera, Marwa Daoudy of the University of Oxford's Middle East Centre suggests that growing dissension within the security forces' ranks could be leveraged in favor of the uprising.

If given guarantees for the post-revolution phase, the 1,200 Alawite officers, with hundreds of men under their command, could be drawn into the transitional phase leading to political pluralism and the rule of law; otherwise, they might resist to the bitter end. Prosecution should be sought against the ones who have perpetrated crimes. But the bulk of the army (with approximately 200,000 soldiers and officers) will need to somehow be integrated. All this presumes that control of military and security affairs is effectively handed over to civilian rule in the transition to democracy.

According to Agence France-Presse, US officials have decided that they will make the much-anticipated move of calling for Assad to step down as early as next week.

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