September 1, 2011 in Nation/World

U.S., Britain call for stronger response to Syria

By David Stringer and Matthew Lee Associated Press
 
Michel Euler photo

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, left, gestures towards British Prime Minister David Cameron during the final press conference at the Elysee Palace in Paris today.
(Full-size photo)

PARIS — The U.S. and Britain called for a tougher stance over Syria’s bloody crackdown on protesters Thursday, demanding tough new international sanctions on President Bashar Assad and his regime.

In a round of talks on the sidelines of a Paris summit on Libya, the U.S., Britain and France discussed plans to escalate international action aimed at halting violence which the United Nations estimates has seen 2,200 people killed since mid-March.

“President Assad’s brutality against unarmed citizens has outraged the region, the world and most importantly the Syrian people themselves,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told reporters in Paris.

Clinton, who held talks on the issue with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and British Foreign Minister William Hague, repeated U.S. calls for Assad to step aside.

“Syria must be allowed to move forward, those who have joined us in this call must now translate our rhetoric into concrete actions to escalate the pressure on Assad and those around him, including strong new sanctions targeting Syria’s energy sector to deny the regime the revenues that fund its campaign of violence,” Clinton said.

British Prime Minister David Cameron told a news conference following the Paris conference that he was increasingly alarmed by a reluctance among United Nations Security Council members to back a more assertive stance.

Russia has declined to support a proposed U.S., British and French resolution which includes asset freezes and an arms embargo. Moscow instead presented an alternative draft which included no sanctions.

“Of course it’s frustrating that we can’t get a stronger resolution on Syria. I’d like us to get that,” Cameron said. “I think what’s happening in Syria is appalling. I think the world needs to stand up and speak clearly about this.”

Cameron said that he believed “we need tougher sanctions, more travel bans, more asset freezes, a clear message that the regime and what it is doing is unacceptable.”

In Poland on Friday, European Union foreign ministers will discuss a plan first announced two weeks ago to impose sweeping new economic sanctions against Syria, including an embargo on oil imports.

“There is a real prospect that we will agree sanctions on the sale of Syrian oil into the European Union,” said Hague.

An EU oil embargo would bring the 27-member bloc in line with the latest U.S. moves to isolate the regime of Assad, including a ban on the import of Syrian petroleum or related products.

“The EU has already taken important steps and I am pleased to hear that more are on the way,” said Clinton, who discussed the plan with Hague.

Two senior U.S. officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss private diplomatic talks, said Syria was a major topic of conversation between Clinton and Turkey’s Davutoglu and said Clinton had expressed U.S. pleasure with recent comments critical of Assad by Turkish President Abdullah Gul.

“Just as we have done in Libya, we are also encouraging the Syrian opposition to set forth their own roadmap for a tolerant, inclusive and democratic path forward, one that can bring together all Syrians — Christians and Alawites. Everyone who lives in Syria today must be part of the new Syria that should be developed in the months ahead,” Clinton said.

The U.S. officials said that Clinton also met in Paris with ex-British Prime Minister Tony Blair, now the special representative for the international diplomatic Quartet on the Middle East.

Clinton recommitted the U.S. to working with the grouping on finding the best path to resuming the moribund Israeli-Palestinian talks, the officials said. That effort has taken on added urgency as the Palestinians prepare to present their case for statehood to the United Nations later this month over strong U.S. and Israeli objections.

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