Washington — The Obama administration is urging countries with significant economic ties to Syria to join the United States in increasing pressure on the Syrian government to end the violence against the Syrian people and allow peaceful democratic change to occur in the country, said Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Speaking on the CBS Television Network August 11, Clinton said the United States has imposed tough economic sanctions targeting Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, top Syrian officials and Syrian businesses tied to the regime in response to the government’s violent crackdown against demonstrators who have been calling for political change.
The Obama administration is also spending “an enormous amount of diplomatic time and effort” to urge others in the international community to condemn the Assad regime’s actions and take additional steps aimed at convincing it to end the violence, she said.
Clinton said Syria has not been a major U.S. economic partner, and other countries could have a greater impact on the Assad regime. “We have such a small stake in what they produce and what they market,” she said. “The real trick is to convince the Europeans and the Arabs and the Chinese and the Indians and others,” she said.
She urged those countries to impose sanctions on Syria’s oil and gas industry and for Russia to end its arms sales to the Syrian government.
Clinton said it is important for the Syrian people to know that “the United States is on the side of a peaceful transition to democracy,” and it supports their right to choose their own leaders and have “the kind of democratic institutions that will maximize their individual opportunities.”
She paid tribute to Syrians who have been risking and losing their lives in the protests and urged the opposition to unify to make it easier for them to accept outside assistance. She also said the opposition should adopt an inclusive agenda for democratic change that will encourage members of all of Syria’s diverse communities.
There are Syrians who have not supported the pro-democracy demonstrations because they are “worried about what could come next” after the Assad regime, Clinton said. She urged the opposition to adopt a unified agenda “[s]o if you’re a Christian, if you’re a Kurd, if you’re a Druze, if you’re an Alawite, if you’re a Sunni, inside Syria there will be a place for you in the future.”
The Obama administration estimates that the Assad regime has killed more than 2,000 Syrians since the demonstrations began in March. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters August 11 that the violence in Syria “continues at extremely horrific levels” as the government’s security forces carry out operations across the country.
“There are house-to-house raids as recently as yesterday in Deir al-Zour and in Homs. Prominent members of the local coordinating committees and other activist networks have been wrapped up,” she said.
“The local coordinating committees estimate that we have 22 dead at the hands of security forces on August 10 and 34 dead on August 9. We have some 30,000 people still in detention, in some cases in absolutely repulsive, disgusting conditions. There are reports from witnesses who have been inside prisons that some of these prisoners are being kept in cages and in the courtyards of prisons and in schools,” Nuland said.
The Obama administration has said that Syria would be “a better place without Assad” and that the country’s future should be decided by the Syrian people. Nuland called on the Assad regime to end the violence, return its forces to their barracks and allow “a real democratic transition to start.”
“Our focus is on doing what we can to increase the international pressure on [Assad], to support those who want a democratic future for Syria,” she said. Nuland urged countries that trade with Syria, especially its oil and gas sector, to stop “so that the pinch will be felt and none of the revenue from this can go to fueling this violence.”
Nuland also said U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford met with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Mualem in Damascus August 11 and told him that Syria will face increasing U.S. and global pressure if the violence does not end.
Ford told Mualem that President Assad’s “empty rhetoric” about instituting democratic reforms “isn’t going to suffice,” Nuland said.
“He challenged the regime’s lip service about enacting reforms, and he called for free and open access for the media and also for strict compliance with Vienna Convention obligations to protect diplomatic personnel,” Nuland said.