Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said late Monday that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has “systematically” violated all terms of the Arab League-mediated peace plan for his country. In a policy speech, Clinton said the United States supports democratic reform in the Middle East without reservation.
Aides say Clinton made the speech to clearly affirm that although the United States had close ties to ousted or endangered Middle East strongmen in the past, it now stands in solidarity with all of those in the region who seek inclusive democracies.
Addressing the National Democratic Institute in Washington, Clinton conceded that the United States has not always pushed reform hard enough, and too often has accepted the notion advanced by Middle East autocrats that supporting them was the only way to fend off extremism.
Clinton, speaking to an audience that included reform activists from across the region, said the United States now recognizes that “the real choice is between reform and unrest.”
“The truth is that the greatest single source of instability in today’s Middle East is not the demand for change; it is the refusal to change," she said. "That is certainly true in Syria, where a crackdown on small, peaceful protests drove thousands into the streets and thousands more over the borders. It is true in Yemen, where President [Ali Abdullah] Saleh has reneged repeatedly on his promises to transition to democracy and suppressed his people’s rights and freedoms. And it is true in Egypt.”
Clinton said that if power in Egypt remains in the hands of a few unelected officials, the country will have missed a historic opportunity and planted the seeds for future unrest.
But she reserved her sharpest criticism for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who she said has spurned every provision of the Arab League peace plan he accepted last week to protect Syrian civilians.
“He has systematically violated each of its basic requirements," said Clinton. "He has not released all detainees. He has not allowed free and unfettered access to journalists or Arab League monitors. He has not withdrawn all armed forces from populated areas. And he has certainly has not stopped all acts of violence. In fact, the regime has increased violence against civilians in places like the city of Homs. Now, Assad may be able to delay change. But he cannot deny his people’s legitimate demands indefinitely.”
Clinton reiterated Washington's call for the Syrian leader to step down and said that until he does, the United States and world community will continue to increase pressure on him and what she termed “his brutal regime.”
The secretary of state also castigated Syria’s main diplomatic ally, Iran, accusing the government there of “breathtaking” hypocrisy by claiming to support democracy abroad, while killing peaceful protestors on the streets of Tehran.
Clinton said the United States is prepared to work with elected Islamist parties provided, among other things, they abide by the rule of law, respect the rights of women and minorities, and let go of power if defeated at the polls.
Clinton also expressed impatience with the stalled effort to revive peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. She said it would be shortsighted to think that either side can simply put peacemaking on hold until the current upheaval is over. She said the stalemate in the Arab-Israeli conflict “is one more status quo in the Middle East that cannot be sustained.”