‘Friends of Syria’ gather to pressure Assad

US and European partners threaten new sanctions on Syria, as opposition calls for no-fly zone and a “tough stance”.

French President Francois Hollande says the meeting must encourage UN Security Council to draw a plan [Reuters]

The United States and its European partners are threatening new sanctions on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government, but the fractured and frustrated Syrian opposition is seeking military action instead.

About 100 delegations are meeting in Paris on Friday at the “Friends of Syria” conference aimed at bolstering the Syrian resistance and pressing Syria’s allies to discuss transition strategies after 16 months of violence.

Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, said on Friday she wanted a UN resolution on a transition in Syria backed by sanctions.

“We should go back and ask for a resolution in the Security Council that imposes real and immediate consequences for non-compliance, including sanctions under Chapter 7,” which covers economic measures to military force, she said.

Chapter 7 of the UN Charter allows for sanctions ranging from economic measures to an arms embargo, and, if necessary, military force. The measure was last used against Libya in 2011.

In the opening statement, Francois Hollande, the French president, said: “Our meeting must set itself a goal to encourage the UN Security Council to take a responsibility to draw a plan to come out of the crisis.”

Members of Syria’s opposition, however, said the international community is still moving too slowly and called for a military measure to end the crisis.

Hassan Hashimi, general secretary of the opposition Syrian National Council, 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”.

The meeting comes amid reports that Manaf Tlas, a Syrian general and personal friend of Assad, was traveling to Paris  after he defecting from the Syrian army.

China-Russia absence

The meeting follows a gathering in Tunis, and another in Istanbul, both of which called in vain for tougher action against Assad’s government.

China and Russia did not attend either of those meetings in which the United States, France, Britain, Germany as well as Saudi Arabia and Qatar, gathered with a group of more than 60 nations, including most European Union and Arab League states.

Clinton, in the meeting, urged world powers to show Russia and China they would pay a price for impeding progress toward a democratic transition in Syria.

“It is, frankly, not enough just to come to the Friends of the Syrian People [meeting] because I will tell you very frankly, I don’t think Russia and China believe they are paying any price at all – nothing at all – for standing up on behalf of the Assad regime,” she said.

“The only way that will change is if every nation represented here directly and urgently makes it clear that Russia and China will pay a price because they are holding up progress – blockading it – [and] that is no longer tolerable.”

Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister, told Le Parisien newspaper on Friday that “several things” would be decided at the talks, including a call for Chapter 7 backing.

“Broadening the sanctions on the Syrian regime, supporting the opposition by supplying means of communication, supporting humanitarian networks and calling for the text adopted last week to be sent to the UN Security Council to be made obligatory with the framework of Chapter 7 of the UN Charter,” he said.

China backed Russia at talks in Geneva last weekend, insisting that Syrians must decide how the transition should occur, rather than allowing others to dictate their fate, and did not rule out Assad remaining in power in some form.

The West insists that Assad should not be part of any new unity government and the Syrian opposition rejected the Geneva talks as making concessions to Damascus under pressure from Russia.

Source: News Agencies