Sunday, May 20, 2018

Clinton presses Russia, China on Syria

PARIS — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton slammed Russia and China on Friday for "blockading" international efforts to bring an end to the Syrian crisis, as confirmation reached a Friends of Syria meeting here that a powerful Syrian military officer had defected from the government of President Bashar Assad.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told high-level representatives that Brig. Gen. Manaf Tlass, a longtime member of Assad's inner circle, had fled Damascus. In a news conference later Friday, Clinton seized the moment to encourage others close to Assad to do the same.

"The Syrian people will remember the choices you make in the coming days, and so will the world," Clinton said. "It is time to abandon the dictator, embrace your countrymen and women and get on the right side of history."

News of the high-level defection amounted to a glimmer of good news for more than 80 nations and international organizations trying to salvage an effort by United Nations envoy Kofi Annan to end the 16-month crackdown in Syria, where the situation is steadily deteriorating.

Clinton is trying to rally international support around Annan's plan, proposed last weekend in Geneva, which calls for a transitional government based on "mutual consent" of opposition groups and members of the Syrian government. That language won support for the plan from Russia, the Syrian government's principal arms supplier, which has interpreted it to mean that Assad might remain in power in a newly constituted government.

U.S. officials, however, have insisted that "mutual consent" means opposition leaders could veto participation of Assad.

Clinton told the conference that Russia and China, which declined invitations to attend, "are holding up progress — blockading it — that is no longer tolerable."

She urged the two veto-wielding U.N. Security Council members to support a U.N. resolution based on the Annan plan that they endorsed in Geneva.

The United States joined other governments here in calling for a new Security Council resolution under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, which in some circumstances could authorize military intervention in Syria. The envisioned resolution would impose global sanctions against Syria, including an arms embargo that Russia has rejected, and demand Assad's cooperation with Annan's plan.

Russia has vetoed two previous U.N. Security Council resolutions, along with China.

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