U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lambasted Russia and China on Friday
for blocking efforts to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose
much-reviled regime has endured a serious crack in its armor -- the defection
of one of its key members.
Speaking at the Friends of Syria conference in
Paris, Clinton called on Russia and China to "get off the sidelines"
and accused them of "standing up for" al-Assad's regime. She urged
the other 60 or so nations represented at the summit to "make it clear
that Russia and China will pay a price" for that support.
"I ask you to reach out to Russia and China and
not only ask but demand that they get off the sidelines," she said.
"I don't think Russia and China believe they are paying any price at all,
nothing at all, for standing with (the) Assad regime."
High-ranking general defects from Syrian military
But it was unclear whether those two nations will
reverse their longstanding opposition to forcing al-Assad from power. The two
trade partners of Syria have vetoed previous efforts by the U.N. Security
Council to condemn the violence in Syria and oust al-Assad. Neither Russia nor
China was represented at the Paris meeting.
Western and Arab nations started the Friends of
Syria initiative because both countries posed diplomatic obstacles in tackling
the Syrian crisis. The United States and others hope this meeting of the group
could lead to stricter economic sanctions and more support for the opposition.
Clinton's tough comments came as a Western diplomat
confirmed that Brig. Gen. Manaf Tlas of Syria's elite Republican Guards has
abandoned the regime.
Tlas, the son of a former Syrian defense minister,
defected over the killing of Sunnis, said the official, who spoke on condition
of anonymity. The official was not authorized to speak to the media.
"He's an inside confidant of Assad. So it
counts that even an insider thinks it's time to go," the official said.
His father, a former defense minister, and the rest
of his family are in Paris, the official said.
Western officials told CNN that Tlas is on his way
to Paris. It was not immediately known if he has joined the Syrian opposition.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, speaking at
the end of the Friends of Syria meeting, called the defection of someone close
to al-Assad a "hard blow" for the regime.
"We are told of the defection of someone quite
important in the regime, very close to Bashar al-Assad, which means that his
close entourage is starting to understand that the regime is
unsustainable," he said.
Fabius said he did not know what the final destination
was for the defector, whom he did not identify by name but said was a member of
the Republican Guard and longtime friend of al-Assad's.
Friends of Syria meeting in Paris
The defection is one more setback for al-Assad, who
Clinton said has been feeling the bite of economic sanctions. The Syrian
leader's "currency and foreign reserves have collapsed," she said,
curbing his ability to continue his crackdown.
But she said challenges remain. Al-Assad was being
kept afloat by "money from Iran and assistance from Russia and the failure
of countries here" at the conference to tighten economic sanctions.
"None of us is satisfied or comfortable with
what is going on in Syria," she said.
but she noted that in the last several months since
the Friends of Syria met in Tunis in February, "there has been a steady
march toward ending this regime."
Fabius said Friday's meeting was significant because
it showed that the international community was adding to the pressure on
al-Assad by coming together to voice its support for the opposition, promise
increased humanitarian aid for the Syrian people and back sanctions against the
"The increased resistance on the ground in
Syria, the defection of people close to Mr. Bashar al-Assad -- even though a
lot remains to be done -- shows that today was not a good day for the
regime," he said.
European Union foreign policy chief Catherine
Ashton, who was at the meeting, warned that any further militarization in Syria
would have a serious impact there and across the region.
"The overwhelming response of so many states
and organizations shows the strong commitment of the international community to
support the Syrian people as the tragic situation on the ground continues to
deteriorate," she said.
The Paris meeting comes less than a week after a
conference of foreign ministers, which included China and Russia, met in
Geneva, Switzerland, and called for a transitional government body as a step
toward ending the Syrian crisis.
That emergency meeting, called by former U.N.
Secretary-General Kofi Annan, raised hopes that Russia was easing its position.
But even as Russia appeared to agree that a key step in the peace process was
the establishment of a transitional government, the country's foreign minister
said it should not be viewed as outside powers imposing a transitional
government on Syrians.
Senior U.S. officials said the United States and its
European and Arab partners will move to impose global sanctions if Syria
doesn't quickly implement the transition plan that includes the appointment of
a new government.
Diplomats at the United Nations are already working
on a document that would demand restrictions on oil and other commercial
business with the Syrian regime if it refuses to implement the Annan peace plan
for a cease-fire and a transitional government. A Security Council resolution
under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter could be introduced next week, the
Clinton's marathon trip tackles a range of U.S. foreign policy
Chapter 7 could ultimately authorize the use of
The officials said the Russian and Chinese
willingness to discuss a political transition plan in Syria and sign on to that
plan last week in Geneva could boost the effort to impose sanctions. The
absence of the two nations at the Paris conference, however, reflects the
difficulties ahead in persuading Moscow and Beijing to back the resolution.
Clinton praised the Syrian opposition's six-page
"vision" for a Syrian transition, unveiled last week at its meeting
in Cairo, Egypt.
The United States hopes the document, which has
details on a new parliament and constitution, will allay fears of Alawites and
other minority groups that the Sunnis leading the fight against al-Assad will
grab all of the power and take revenge on al-Assad's supporters. The regime is
dominated by Alawites, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, and the opposition is
French President François Hollande also called for
al-Assad's departure Friday, saying a political transition is the only way to
end 16 months of violence in the Middle East nation.
Members of the Syrian opposition attended the Paris
meeting, and many are pushing for the imposition of a no-fly zone in Syria.
Riad Seif, a former member of parliament recently
allowed to leave Syria to seek medical treatment, made an impassioned plea at
"After so many conferences, we fail to see how
we have so many friends and people are dying every day," Seif said.
"We would like your friendship to be effective, to put an end to this
Fifty people were killed in fighting early Friday,
according to the opposition Local Coordination Committees of Syria.
Among the dead, the LCC said, were 16 in the
Damascus suburbs, 11 in Daraa and nine in hard-hit Idlib, a flashpoint in the
uprising that began in March 2011 and has left thousands dead. Those deaths
follows reports that at least 70 people were killed Thursday, the LCC said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, another
group of activists, reports Friday's death toll at 23.
Meanwhile, a Turkish foreign ministry official told
CNN that two children were killed and six Syrian refugees were injured after a
gas canister exploded Friday at the Yayladagi refugee camp in southeastern