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Clinton: Position of Syrian Leader Less Tenable by the Day

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, May 31, 2011
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, May 31, 2011

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Tuesday the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has not engaged in serious reform efforts and its position becomes “less tenable” every day. There have been more deaths in a Syrian crackdown on protesters that human rights groups say has now claimed one thousand lives.

Clinton’s comments, triggered by reports of the torture death of a 13-year-old Syrian boy in police custody, were some of the strongest to date by an Obama administration official about the Syrian crackdown.

At a press conference with Colombian Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin, Clinton said the mutilation killing of the Syrian youngster, Hamza Ali al-Khatib, may have once and for all dashed hopes by everyday Syrians that the government will be responsive to reform demands.

“I think what that symbolizes for many Syrians is the total collapse of any effort by the Syrian government to work with and listen to their own people. And I think that as the President [Obama] said in his speech last week, President Assad has a choice. And every day that goes by the choice is made by default. He has not called an end to the violence to his own people. And he has not engaged seriously in any kind of reform effort,” Clinton said.

Clinton sidestepped a question about whether Mr. Assad has lost his legitimacy, saying that is up to the Syrian people to decide. But she said the standing of the Syrian government, in the face of international sanctions and condemnation, is steadily eroding.

“I think that every day that goes by, the position of the government become less tenable and the demands of the Syrian people for change only grow stronger. Therefore we continue to urge an end to the violence and a commencement of a real process that can lead to the kinds of changes that are called for,” Clinton said.

Earlier the State Department dismissed an announcement of a general amnesty by the Syrian leader, saying Mr. Assad has talked about reform but there has been little in the way of action.

Clinton’s press event capped a day-long high-level U.S.-Colombian dialogue focusing on human rights, trade and joint efforts against regional drug trafficking.

The Secretary publicly assured her Colombian counterpart of the Obama administration’s commitment to getting final Congressional approval this year for the long-delayed U.S.-Colombia free trade accord.

“I hope that the people of Colombia do not lose heart watching the activities of our Congress. Because there always is a lot of rhetoric and skirmishing between the parties before they finally hit the deadline to get the work done. And so I am absolutely sure we’re going to get it passed,” Clinton said.

Clinton hailed Colombia’s lead effort to have Honduras readmitted to the Organization of American States after its 2009 constitutional crisis, a process expected to be climaxed by an OAS vote Wednesday.