Smoke rising in Hama, Syria 390.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
WASHINGTON - The United States backs the Arab League's latest plan for Syria, but sees challenges in winning UN approval for peacekeepers to halt the Syrian government's violent crackdown on protests, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Monday.
Clinton discussed Syria with visiting Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, and agreed to discuss further steps at the inaugural meeting of a new "Friends of Syria" contact group in Tunisia on Feb. 24.
The Arab League on Sunday threw its support behind Syria's opposition and called for a joint UN-Arab peacekeeping force to quell the violence, boosting pressure on Russia and China which on Feb. 4 vetoed UN Security Council action on the crisis.
Clinton said the United States would work to tighten international sanctions on the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad and seek ways to deliver humanitarian aid amid what she said was a "deplorable" escalation of violence by government forces.
"We have heard the call of the Syrian people for help and we are committed to working to allow the entry of medical supplies, of emergency help to reach those who are wounded and dying," Clinton said.
But she suggested that the Arab peacekeeper proposal would be tough to get through given Russian and Chinese support for Damascus.
"There are a lot of challenges to be discussed as to how to put into effect all of their recommendations and certainly the peacekeeping request is one that will take agreement and consensus," Clinton said.
"We don't know that it is going to be possible to persuade Syria. They have already, as of today, rejected that."
Davutoglu, whose country has been at the forefront of those calling for action against the Assad government, said the international community needed to look at all options as the crisis unfolds.
"We cannot be silent when these humanitarian tragedies continue," Davutoglu said.
"At this moment we are talking on diplomatic and humanitarian steps to be taken. But for other scenarios, we hope that those things will not be needed but we need to think about contingencies as well."