Last updated: 7 June, 2012

Clinton in Istanbul for Syria talks

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton laid out a Syria strategy calling for a full transfer of power from the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, a senior State Department official said.

“We can’t break faith with the Syrian people who want real change,” said the official who briefed reporters on Clinton’s meeting here with officials from 16 regional and European powers.

Clinton set forth “essential elements and principles that we believe should guide that post Assad transition strategy, including Assad’s full transfer of power,” the official said.

Other elements include “the establishment of a fully representative and inclusive interim government which leads to free and fair elections, a ceasefire to be observed by all and equality for all Syrians under the law,” the official said.

Clinton stressed that in the meantime countries in a group of “Friends of the Syrian People” were looking at ways of tightening sanctions against the regime and adding new measures with an eye to peeling away domestic support for Assad.

Countries that provide assistance to the Syrian opposition also agreed to convene a meeting of their experts with opposition representatives in Istanbul at mid month to better coordinate the assistance.

The participants, mainly Arab and European foreign ministers, met here against the backdrop of fresh reports of massacres in Syria and growing fears of a descent into a destabilizing civil war.

Hosted by Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, the late night meeting included top officials from the EU, the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, UAE, Qatar, Tunisia, Morocco and Turkey.

They discussed calls made by some countries for invoking Chapter VII of the UN charter, which authorizes member states to take “all necessary measures” to carry out specific UN Security Council decisions. It can be used in some cases to authorize military action.

“The secretary made clear Chapter VII remains on the table at the appropriate time,” the official said, briefing reporters on condition of anonymity.

The official portrayed the secretary’s presentation as an attempt to lay out a “common vision” that can unite the international community on action toward Syria in the period ahead.

Vehement opposition from Russia and China, however, has so far blocked action at the UN Security Council despite rising condemnation over massacres of civilians by forces loyal to the regime.

The Syrian opposition reported that as many as 100 people, including women and children, were massacred Wednesday in a village in central Syria. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights tentatively put the number of dead at 87. The government denied involvement.

The views aired in Istanbul were expected to be taken up again Thursday at the United Nations when the Security Council meets to hear special envoy Kofi Annan’s report on his battered peace plan.

And Clinton is sending her special representative on Syria, Fred Hoff, to Moscow on Thursday to sound out the Russians, the official said.

“She made clear that we want to work with Russia, but that we’ve got to have a common vision,” the official said.

Russia and China, meanwhile, poured cold water on the push to remove Assad from power in a joint statement issued Wednesday after two days of meetings between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese leaders.

“Russia and China are decisively against attempts to regulate the Syrian crisis with outside military intervention, as well as imposing … a policy of regime change,” Russia and China said in a joint statement issued Wednesday.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has proposed an international conference on Syria that would include Iran among other powers.

Clinton told reporters in Baku earlier Wednesday she would reserve judgment on such a conference until after the meetings here and with Annan in Washington on Friday. But she was cool to the idea of bringing Iran into the discussions.

“It’s a little hard to imagine inviting a country that is stage managing the Assad regime’s assault on its people,” she said, referring to Iran.

The French and British foreign ministers shot down the Russian proposal. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told AFP: “Iran can in no case” be involved in talks “as it would firstly be contradictory with the aim of applying strong pressure on Syria and would also have an effect upon Tehran’s nuclear programme, which is not desirable.”

British Foreign Secretary William Hague echoed him, saying: “I think the inclusion of Iran in any such group would probably render it unworkable.

“This is a country that is supporting some of the unacceptable violence and supporting the Syrian regime in what it is doing to the Syrian people and that would cause a great difficulty.”