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US, Russia to Continue Syria Talks

  • Al Pessin

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton gestures as she gives a speech at Dublin City University in Dublin, Ireland, December 6, 2012.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton gestures as she gives a speech at Dublin City University in Dublin, Ireland, December 6, 2012.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says American and Russian officials will meet in the next few days to try to find ways to work together to end the violence in Syria. The two powers have been on opposite sides of the more than year-long conflict, but Clinton met with her Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov this week in Ireland.

In remarks Friday, Clinton said there was no "breakthrough" during the meeting with the Russian envoy. But they did agree to form lower-level teams to work with United Nations and Arab League envoy Lakhtar Brahimi on a common way forward.

"Both Minister Lavrov and I committed to support a renewed push by Brahimi and his team to work with all the stakeholders in Syria to begin a political transition," said Clinton.

Clinton adds that transition must result in a "unified, democratic Syria," one that includes representatives of all Syrian ethnic and religious groups. And she added one condition that Russia has opposed, as the chief foreign ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

"A future of this kind cannot possibly include Assad," Clinton noted. "So we go into these discussions with a clear sense of what we want to see accomplished, but a realistic understanding of how difficult it still is."

Clinton, Lavrov and Brahimi met in Dublin on Thursday. The secretary spoke about the meeting on Friday during a brief stop in Belfast.

She says it's important for any country with influence in the Middle East to explore all possible solutions because developments in Syria, in her words, "are increasingly dangerous not only to Syrians, but to their neighbors."

The secretary was apparently referring to rebel advances, particularly around Damascus, and to reports that Syria's army might be preparing for the possible use of chemical weapons against them.

Both the United States and Russia have said such a move would be unacceptable, and U.S. officials have hinted that it might trigger military intervention, which so far the international community has avoided.

In a move apparently aimed at reassuring supporters of President Assad, both in Syria and in Russia, Clinton served notice on Syria's many rebel groups that United States expects them to respect the rights of all Syrians if they come to power.

"We're going to be holding every party to the same standard," Clinton added. "This is not just a one-sided dialogue. It has to be one that is inclusive, but everyone must understand what is expected of them."

Secretary Clinton heads home Friday, but she will cross the Atlantic again next week to attend a meeting in Morocco of the Friends of the Syrian People, an international group that wants President Assad to resign. That meeting is expected to formally accept the reorganized Syrian opposition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people, and will serve as another opportunity to push for Assad's ouster.
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