The U.S. and Russia have agreed to support mediation among all sides in Syria’s civil war in a renewed bid to end the violence, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said today.
Talks on Syria in Dublin yesterday among Clinton, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and United Nations Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi were “an important step but just the beginning,” Clinton said today on a stop in Northern Ireland. “I don’t think anybody believes that there was some great breakthrough.”
Clinton reiterated that the U.S. believes any transition to a “democratic, unified” Syria “cannot possibly include Assad.” At the same time, she added, the U.S. intends to hold “every party to the same standard” of human rights and democratic values. “This is not just a one-sided dialogue” against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, she said.
Speaking at Stormont Castle government offices in Belfast, Clinton said the next step will be a meeting in the coming days among senior U.S. and Russian officials on “how we can operationalize the path forward.” The U.S. and Russia “committed to support a renewed push by Brahimi and his team to work with all the stakeholders in Syria to begin a political transition based on the outline that we agreed to in Geneva last June,” she said.
Clinton and Lavrov have discussed Syria several times in recent months without coming to agreement and word of the hastily arranged meeting organized by Brahimi had stirred hopes that the U.S. and Russia might be closer to a compromise over the best path to halt 21 months of violence in Syria. Clinton and Lavrov were both in Dublin for a gathering of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe.
Brahimi said after the Dublin meeting that the three hadn’t “taken any sensational decisions” while agreeing to “work together to see how we can find creative ways” to end the fighting.
The meeting followed warnings to the Assad government from the U.S., NATO and Russia this week against unleashing its stockpile of chemical weapons. There were also signs this week that the U.S. is bolstering its support for the Syrian opposition and that Russia, a stalwart ally of Syria’s and longtime backer of Assad and his late father, may be moderating its support.
“We reviewed the very dangerous developments inside Syria,” Clinton said. “No one should have any illusions about how hard this remains.”
The U.S. and Russia have been at an impasse over how much pressure to exert to end the fighting between Assad’s government and rebels. The U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says more than 41,000 people have died since an uprising inspired by other Arab Spring movements began in March 2011.
The U.S. has pushed for a UN Security Council resolution that would impose consequences, such as economic sanctions, for a failure to end the conflict and begin a planned transition to a unity government. Russia has blocked UN sanctions and thwarted efforts to pressure Assad under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, which could theoretically authorize the use of force. Russia also has blocked U.S., European and Arab League efforts to disqualify Assad and his inner circle from any transitional government.