With fighting raging in Syria, and a United Nations peacekeeping official expressing the view that the country is already in a state of civil war, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had more to say at an event in Washington.
Clinton appeared at the Brookings Institution Saban Center for Middle East Policy, along with Israeli President Shimon Peres, who also offered his views about how the world, and in particular Arab countries, should deal with the conflict in Syria.
Clinton said Washington continues to support the Annan plan, though it is not being implemented because of the Assad government’s rejection of its key principle, the cessation of violence.
She said Annan is working to put together a group of countries, to include Russia, to come up with a road map for political transition. She said Moscow has “increasingly” said it is not defending Assad but continues to worry about what would come after the Syrian leader is gone.
Clinton said Washington has a “timeline” in mind of mid-July when the U.N. Security Council is due to decide on extending the U.N mission in Syria. She described this as an “outer limit”. If there is no discernible movement by then, an extension would be difficult and “increasingly dangerous” for U.N. observers.
Secretary Clinton also outlined concerns about potential destabilizing effects of the conflict for Syria’s neighbors and the world.
She referred to “an increase in the activities of certain elements of the [Syrian] opposition that could lead to even greater violence and the likelihood of the civil war that we are all trying to avoid.”
Civil war is the term current and former U.N. officials are using. The head of U.N. peacekeeping, Herve Ladsous, said the situation has gotten to the point where it can be called a civil war.
Mark Malloch-Brown, who worked under Annan at the United Nations, referred to an “escalating process of sectarian-on-sectarian violence which is really the essence of a civil war.”
In her remarks in Washington, Secretary Clinton placed additional pressure on Russia, saying Washington has “confronted” Moscow about stopping arms shipments to Syria.
Saying Russia has sought to downplay the significance of arms shipments, she said the U.S. is concerned about what she called the latest information the U.S. has about attack helicopters on the way from Russia to Syria which she said would escalate the conflict.
Clinton also referred to what she called a “massing of forces” around the Syrian city of Aleppo, which she suggested could be a “red line” for Turkey.
With Clinton at Brookings was Israeli President Peres, in Washington among other things to receive the Medal of Freedom from President Obama.
Peres referred to concerns about what would follow Assad should he depart, saying “Assad [has stopped being] an alternative.” He was blunt in calling for Arab countries to take the lead in bringing about Assad’s departure, saying the “Arab League must and should do it.”
“I would say gentlemen, you sent observers, now you know the situation, what is your proposal? You don’t want anybody else to intervene because this would be foreign intervention. OK, do it yourself, and the United Nations would support you.”
On Russia’s position, Peres said Moscow “may be admired in Syria, but [is] creating a great deal of opposition in the rest of the Arab world.”
On Iran, Peres drew a distinction between Iran’s leadership and its people. He said world concern is not focused solely on the issue of an Iranian nuclear weapon but on the intention Iran’s leadership of “renewing imperialism” in the name of religion, which he called unacceptable.
Peres noted President Obama’s efforts to resolve the Iranian nuclear issue through “non-military means” while making clear all options are on the table.
Clinton said the P5+1 group of nations negotiations in Moscow next week with Iran present Tehran with the chance to take “a diplomatic way out” and pursue a very clear path that would be verifiable and based on “action for action.”
Secretary Clinton said she is “quite certain” that Iran is under what she called tremendous pressure from Russia and China to come to Moscow prepared to respond. Moscow, she said, has made very clear that Russia expects the Iranians to advance the discussion in Moscow, and “not to just come, listen and leave.”
Dan Robinson has been Voice of America's Senior White House Correspondent since 2010, arriving from Capitol Hill where he covered the House of Representatives from 2002 to 2009. He is also a former bureau chief for VOA in Southeast Asia, and East Africa, and headed VOA's Burma broadcast service between 1997 and 2001.