May 20, 2013
After Russia talks, Clinton sees divisions on Syria
Sharp divisions remain with Moscow over the Syria crisis, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, as she wrapped up an Asia tour in which she also made little headway with China on easing tensions in the South China Sea.
Clinton said she had made the case for increasing pressure on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, but had come away pessimistic about the chances of closing the gap before the U.N. General Assembly this month.
"If we can make progress in New York in the run-up to the U.N. General Assembly, we can certainly try," Clinton told reporters in Vladivostok, where she attended a Pacific Rim summit hosted by the Russian leader.
"But we have to be realistic. We haven't seen eye-to-eye on Syria. That may continue. And if it does continue then we will work with like-minded states to support the Syrian opposition to hasten the day when Assad falls."
On her 11-day Asia trip, Clinton sought to push for more forceful international steps on Syria, greater unity over Iran's nuclear programme and a multilateral mechanism for China to deal with maritime territorial disputes with its Southeast Asian neighbours.
But she appeared to gain little traction with either the Chinese and Russian leadership, both of which restated their firm opposition to what they see as U.S. meddling.
"Our U.S. partners prefer measures like threats, increased pressure and new sanctions against both Syria and Iran. We do not agree with this in principle," Russia's Lavrov told reporters after his talks with Clinton on Saturday.
Putin declined to give details of his brief talks with Clinton but said that although they had been had been constructive and useful, they had yielded no agreements.
Clinton said she would continue to work with Lavrov to see if the U.N. Security Council could formally endorse an agreement brokered by former U.N. Syria envoy Kofi Annan which envisages a transitional governing authority for Syria.
But she added that such a step would only be effective if it carried specific penalties if Assad fails to comply - something Russia has repeatedly resisted.
"There's no point passing a resolution with no teeth because we've seen time and time again that Assad will ignore it and keep attacking his own people," Clinton said.
When the agreement Russia wants the Security Council to endorse was reached in late June, it left open the question of what part Assad might play in a Syrian political process. Russia says his exit must not be a precondition forced from outside.