Clinton: Syria may face 'serious consequences'

Secretary of State says Syria must stop killing; Britain's William Hague warns Assad to follow plan or face UNSC action.

April 1, 2012 11:59
3 minute read.
Clinton and Hague at "Friends of Syria" meeting.

Hillary Clinton and William Hague 370. (photo credit: REUTERS/Murad Sezer )


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ISTANBUL - US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Sunday urged members of Syrian President Bashar Assad's government to halt operations targeting civilians, or face "serious consequences".

"Our message must be clear to those who give the orders and those who carry them out: Stop killing your fellow citizens or you will face serious consequences," Clinton said in prepared remarks at a conference on the Syrian conflict in Istanbul.

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"Your countrymen will not forget, and neither will the international community," she added.

Clinton also said the United States was providing communications equipment to Syria's civilian opposition. "We are discussing with our international partners how best to expand this support," she said.

While the Obama administration has called on Assad to accept a new peace plan proposed by United Nations-Arab League special envoy Kofi Annan, the United States has so far shown little appetite for arming the rebels or intervening militarily along the lines of the NATO-led operation in Libya last year.

"Nearly a week has gone by, and we have to conclude that the regime is adding to its long list of broken promises," Clinton said of the Assad government's delay in implementing the peace plan from UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan despite apparently accepting it.

Britain said on Sunday that foot dragging by Assad over the Annan plan will trigger fresh pressure on him at the UN Security Council and possibly increase foreign governments' financing of the Syrian opposition.

Foreign Secretary William Hague issued the warning to Assad in comments to journalists before joining a "Friends of Syria" conference, that has brought together 75 countries, mostly Western and Arab states, in Istanbul.

Assad has accepted the peace plan proposed by UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan, but his forces continued an artillery and mortar bombardment of a pro-opposition neighborhood in the city of Homs on Saturday.

"The Assad regime has said they accepted the Annan plan but they haven't done anything about it. The fighting continues," Hague said.

"Increased financial support for the opposition will be one of the consequences of the Assad regime playing for time in implementing the Annan proposals," he said.

"One of the messages from this conference is that it will be important to implement the Annan plan, and there isn't an indefinite amount of time to do that before we here, the 'Friends of Syria,' need to go back to the United Nations Security Council or intensify funding for the Syrian opposition.

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"We do need the Assad regime to take action not just words. That does not mean that today we will set an expiry date, but it does depend what they do on the ground."

Britain announced a doubling of non-lethal assistance for the Syrian resistance in recent days, a tactic already adopted by the United States, and one that Turkey has said it will match.

Some Gulf Arab countries have said that more backing should be given to the rebel Syrian Free Army in order to protect civilians caught in Assad's crackdown on the year-long revolt.

Hague said that participants in the Istanbul meeting were discussing what form financing for the opposition should take, adding it was undecided whether it would be a "trust fund", as suggested by some governments.

The British minister noted the efforts by the opposition Syrian National Council to become a more open and inclusive group, saying it had "done better in recent days".

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