Clinton Endorses Russian Civic Activists Before Syria Talks

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met Russian civic activists in St. Petersburg, where she will discuss Syria with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov before a conference on the Middle Eastern nation tomorrow.

Clinton, who is in Russia’s second-biggest city to head a U.S. delegation to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation’s Women and the Economy Forum, met 13 activists who campaign for causes including election transparency and gay rights, according to Natalia Yevdokimova, secretary of St. Petersburg’s human-rights council, who spoke by phone after attending the gathering.

“We are not naive about the very real challenges you face, but we believe the work you are doing is absolutely critical,” Clinton said today in the U.S. consul-general’s residence, where the meeting was held. She praised the activists for striving “to make Russia a better place for future generations.”

Russian officials have criticized U.S. and European support for civil-society groups as protests continue on the streets of Moscow and other Russian cities against President Vladimir Putin. The ruling United Russia party said today it would propose a law under which all non-governmental organizations that receive financial aid from abroad would be classified as “foreign agents.”

Clinton will discuss the situation in Syria with Lavrov later today before both fly to Geneva for a meeting tomorrow morning on a political-transition plan proposed by United Nations envoy Kofi Annan.

No Agreement

The plan is the latest attempt to end the violence in the Middle Eastern nation, where the UN estimates more than 10,000 people have died since the government began a crackdown against protesters last March. An Annan-brokered cease-fire between the military and armed opposition has failed to halt the violence.

Lavrov said yesterday there’s no agreement on the fate of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, calling press reports that Russia had agreed he must go an “unscrupulous approach to diplomacy.”

At the APEC conference, Clinton stressed the need for international efforts to expand business opportunities for women.

“Women now represent 40 percent of the global labor force, 43 percent of the agricultural workforce and more than half of the world’s university students,” she said. “Limiting women’s economic potential is like leaving money on the table.  It just don’t make sense, especially at a time when the global economy continues to struggle.”

Women Entrepreneurs

“In Japan, raising the 60 percent employment rate among women to match the 80 percent rate among men would add more than 8 million workers and increase GDP as much as 15 percent,” she said.

Clinton said women-owned small businesses in East Asian nations such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam are “growing at a faster rate than those owned by men.”

The U.S. will work with the UN International Trade Center to expand the ability of Asia-Pacific governments to make purchases from women-owned businesses and take steps to help build the capacity of women entrepreneurs in the region, Clinton said.

Also, she said, “we are joining with expert partners to train central and commercial banks throughout the Asia-Pacific in inclusive lending practices. This will institutionalize women’s ability to access finance and capital and generate economic gains.”

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