U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lashed out at Russia and China over their Syria policy Friday, at the conclusion of a meeting in Tunis designed to increase pressure on the Syrian regime and its supporters to allow democratic change.
Secretary Clinton said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will have even more blood on his hands if he does not stop the violence and allow humanitarian aid to reach civilian areas his troops have been shelling for weeks. But she reserved some of her harshest words for Assad's main international supporters, Russia and China, who vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution that would have condemned him.
“They are setting themselves against the aspirations not only of the Syrian people, but of the entire Arab Spring, the Arab awakening. It's quite distressing to see two permanent members of the Security Council using their veto when people are being murdered," said Clinton. "It is just despicable. And I ask, 'Whose side are they on?' They are clearly not on the side of the Syrian people.”
Russia, China called out
Clinton said the Russian, Chinese and Syrian positions are contrary to history and are not sustainable.
She also said several times that there are signs that the network of domestic support around Assad is cracking, and she called on members of his security services, in particular, to break with the regime.
“Their continuing to kill their brothers and sisters is a stain on their honor. Their refusal to continue this slaughter will make them heroes in the eyes of not only Syrians, but people of conscience everywhere,” said Clinton.
"Friends of Syria" Key Facts
- Who: More than 73 entities, including the United States, European and Arab nations, the United Nations, the Arab League, the African Union and the Gulf Cooperation Council. Key Syrian ally, Russia, will not attend.
- What: An international meeting on Syria proposed by France and the United States
- Where: Tunis, Tunisia
- When: February 24, 2012
- Why: To increase sanctions to force Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down, to demand humanitarian access to places under government siege, and to support Syrian opposition groups with a power transition plan.
The secretary spoke after a long afternoon of meetings at the conference of the 70 countries and organizations that call themselves the Friends of the Syrian People. The meeting agreed to intensify efforts to deliver humanitarian aid to besieged Syrian towns, but only if the Syrian government provides safe passage. The meeting did not discuss sending foreign troops, and there was no agreement on a request for arms from the main Syrian opposition group at the meeting, the Syrian National Council.
Reuters quoted one member of the Council as being disappointed in the meeting, and some Arab delegations also were reported to have wanted to move on arms sales. One human rights group, Avaaz, said the meeting “failed to go far enough fast enough” to end the shelling and deliver aid.
The meeting agreed to continue to work with the Council, and called on it to further broaden its support inside Syria. Tunisia's foreign minister said the Council could be recognized as the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people at the Friends' meeting in Turkey in March, or the following one, planned for France in April.
Delegates also agreed to increase sanctions on the Assad regime, including possible travel bans on senior Syrian officials, freezing their assets, boycotting Syrian oil, suspending new investments and beginning to close embassies and consulates. They want Assad to step down in favor of a transitional council leading to elections and a new constitution.
Clinton said members of the Syrian regime must be held accountable for the current violence, which human rights groups say has killed about 9,000 civilians. She said Assad's days in office are numbered, and that she deeply regrets that there will be more killing before he goes.