The Envoy

Hillary Clinton to UN: Stand with Syrian people or be “complicit” in crackdown

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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton confers with UK Foreign Secretary William Hague at UN Jan. 31, 2012. (Mary  …

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the United Nations Tuesday that the world faces a choice: stand with the people of Syria or be complicit in the Bashar al-Assad regime's brutal violence. But her message was aimed squarely at one nation: Russia.

"We all know that change is coming to Syria," Clinton told the diplomatic body at a UN Security Council meeting on Syria Tuesday afternoon. "The question is how many more innocent civilians will die before Assad bows to the inevitable, and how unstable a country he will leave behind."

Clinton was joined by her British and French counterparts in New York Tuesday to try to break a diplomatic stalemate over the continuing Syrian crackdown. A United Nations assessment puts the death toll in the country at 5,400 people since anti-government unrest began last March. But Syrian activists have reported over 100 people killed in the past few days since the Arab League suspended an observer mission in the country last weekend.

Russia, a veto-wielding member of the Security Council with deep political and economic ties to Damascus, has to date blocked UN Security Council resolutions condemning Assad's brutality. Russian business investments and arms sales to Syria amount to over $24 billion, Israeli security analysts Yagil Beinglass and Daniel Brode wrote in a New York Times oped Tuesday.

In the hopes of avoiding a Russian veto, the United States and European allies on Tuesday threw their support to a more minimalist resolution drafted by Morocco on behalf of the Arab League. The resolution calls for an immediate halt to the violence. Specifically, it calls for Syrian security forces to return to their barracks, the release of political prisoners, and free access to Syria for humanitarian workers, human rights observers and journalists.

The draft resolution does not make way for any Libya-style military intervention in Syria, Clinton said Tuesday, describing that as a bogus pretext to object to the measure.

"I know that some members here are concerned that we are headed toward another Libya," Clinton said. "That is a false analogy. Syria is a unique situation that requires its own approach."

"The threat to the stability of region is growing," warned British Foreign Secretary William Hague in his remarks to the Council Tuesday. "With each day that passes, finding the way back will be harder."

On the question of whether the resolution calls for Assad to step down--something Russia said it would oppose but which the US, Europe and Turkey have called for--Clinton was more oblique. She urged the Council to back the Arab League's call "for an inclusive Syrian-led political process to effectively address the legitimate aspirations and concerns of Syria's people." (Arab diplomats for their part told the Council Tuesday that the draft does not call for "regime change" in Syria.)

U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, testifying before the Senate Intelligence panel Tuesday, said he thinks Assad's days in power are numbered. But he said it's still a question of time how long he hangs on, and said the fight could be a protracted one.

Clinton offered a more confident assessment Tuesday that Assad's days are numbered--and a warning to those who back the wrong side.

"Despite its ruthless tactics, the Assad regime's reign of terror will end and the people of Syria will chart their own destiny," she said, adding: "The regime in Damascus has driven Syria to the brink of chaos, and the longer Assad continues, the harder it will be to rebuild after he is gone."

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