WASHINGTON – US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton rejected the notion Thursday that Iran could play a role in easing Syrian President Bashar Assad out of power as carnage increased in the violence- torn country.

As world powers mull ways to remove Assad as fresh massacres of Syrian civilians have been reported, a proposal backed by Russia would draw Iran into the fold. Russia and Iran, along with China, have been the key countries allied with Assad, propping up his faltering regime.

“It is hard, for the United States certainly, to imagine that a country putting so much effort into keeping Assad in power, and [then] helping to stage-manage the repression on the people of Syria, would be a constructive actor,” Clinton told reporters while on a trip to Turkey. “We think that would not be an appropriate participant at this point to include.”

Including Iran in the process could also give the Islamic Republic significant diplomatic prestige and influence at a time that the West is seeking to weaken and isolate Tehran over its nuclear program.

However, Russia with the aid of China has been strongly opposed to any international intervention that would facilitate the ouster of a key regional ally.

But getting Iran on board could help Russia defuse some of the pressure being heaped on it for being obstructionist as well as bolster the global voices more supportive of Assad in any international involvement.

Many countries, including the US, have singled out Russia for voting down UN efforts to take more aggressive action on Syria. But Western countries too are coming under increasing criticism for not doing more to halt bloodshed that has claimed fresh civilian casualties in recent days, raising the prospect of more unilateral action by those nations.

Clinton reiterated America’s call for Assad to “transfer power and depart Syria,” but gave no sign of supporting military intervention or similar tactics. She said the US was “prepared to work with any country, including all members of the UN Security Council, and we will do so so long as any such gathering starts from the basic premise that Assad and his regime must give way to a new democratic Syria.”

The comment seemed intended to underscore American willingness to work with Russia, and Clinton later pointedly ruled out Iran as one of the countries the US would work with when reporters asked her about Tehran’s possible participation.

Clinton also noted she would soon be meeting with UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan. Annan has been fruitlessly trying to broker a peace deal, and it has been suggested that he would seek to present a new configuration of outreach to Syria by including Russia and Iran in his efforts.

On Wednesday, representatives from 55 states met in Washington at a gathering hosted by US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner to pledge increasing economic sanctions on Syria outside of the consensus-based UN system as reports of fresh massacres mounted.

Following greater confirmation of the casualty rates and nature of the attacks, Clinton and the White House offered harsh criticism Thursday.

“The United States strongly condemns the outrageous targeted killings of civilians including women and children in Al-Qubeir in Hama province as reported by multiple credible sources,” said White House Press Secretary Jay Carney.

“Assad’s continued abdication of responsibility for these horrific acts has no credibility and only further underscores the illegitimate and immoral nature of his rule,” he continued. “We call once more on all nations to abandon support for this brutal and illegitimate regime, and to join together to support a political transition in Syria.”

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