‘Friends of Syria’ press Assad to apply peace plan

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton (R) and German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle
The United States and its European partners are threatening new sanctions on Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime if he doesn’t act fast on a new peace plan, but the fractured and frustrated Syrian opposition is seeking quick military actions instead.
About 100 delegations are meeting Friday in Paris at a so-called Friends of Syria conference aimed at bolstering the Syrian resistance and pressing Syria’s allies to discuss transition strategies for the embattled country after 16 months of brutal crackdowns and civil war.
Hassan Hashimi, general secretary of the opposition Syrian National Council, said the international community is still moving too slowly.
Going into Friday’s meeting, he said he hopes to see a “tough stand” by diplomats, and a no-fly zone to prevent military forces “flying over defected soldiers and civilians and bombarding them.”
But military intervention is not on the immediate horizon. US officials say they are focusing on economic pressure, and the Obama administration says it won’t intervene militarily or provide weapons to the Syrian rebels for what it considers to be an already too-militarized conflict.

And Russia, a key Syrian ally, isn’t taking part in Friday’s conference.

The French hosts, meanwhile, have staked out a firm stance against Assad.

“Bashar Assad must leave. A transitional government should be formed. It’s in everyone’s interest,” he said. He urged “real and effective” sanctions and urged all participants to pledge support for democratic opposition and organize effective humanitarian aid.

US officials say Friday’s conference will threaten new sanctions if Assad doesn’t quickly implement the latest UN-brokered peace plan that includes the appointment of a new interim government.

While the threat isn’t new, they hope the threat may carry added bite due to Russia and China’s recent willingness to discuss Syrian transition strategies. The minimum hope is that the two veto-wielding UN Security Council powers might back elusive international economic sanctions if Assad ignores the call for peace.

Diplomats at the United Nations already are working on a document that would demand restrictions on oil and other commercial business with Syria’s government if it refuses to abide by U.N. mediator Kofi Annan’s plan for a cease-fire and the creation of a caretaker government.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague has insisted that Annan’s plan remained the best means of halting Syria’s violence. He said on Twitter on Thursday evening that the “best way of avoiding more massacres is to do everything we can to support peaceful transition.”

Though he said Britain and others preferred to work with Russia and China on a solution to the crisis, “no option is ruled out” if the Annan plan does not deliver results. Hague said Britain could seek a stronger UN Security Council resolution, and did not rule out the use of military intervention – but cautioned that such action would be complex.

A UN resolution could be introduced next week, according to American officials who previewed Friday’s gathering in Paris on condition of anonymity. But with neither Moscow nor Beijing in attendance, much will remain dependent on persuading the two reluctant powers to pressure Assad into action.

The objections of Russia and China also effectively watered down Annan’s blueprint for transition at a conference in Geneva last weekend. It grants Assad an effective veto over any interim government candidate he opposes. The opposition would gain the same power.

The formula could lead to a stalemate that plays into Assad’s hands, leaving him in power while his security forces persist in what Western nations and human rights groups have described as gross human rights violations. Activists reported at least 26 people killed across Syria on Thursday in clashes between troops and rebels and government shelling across the country. They say more than 14,000 people have been killed since the revolt began.

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