A year into a popular uprising that has claimed some 6,000 Syrian lives, the lack of agreement on tougher measures reflected misgivings about further militarizing a conflict that some fear could ignite a wider war in the heart of the Middle East.
The session came as President Obama said in Washington that the United States and its allies would consider “every tool available’’ to halt the killing in Syria, some of the strongest language he has used during the crisis. For her part, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told the gathering that “we cannot wait for this crisis to become an even greater catastrophe.”
But despite their calls for an “immediate” end to the government bombardment of the city of Homs and other opposition strongholds to allow humanitarian assistance to safely enter the country, the participants here voiced few illusions that their actions would produce immediate results.
The united denunciation of Assad masked disagreement in the closed-door conference on whether to arm opposition forces. Asked whether he favored supplying weapons to the Free Syrian Army composed primarily of military defectors, Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal, said, “I think it’s an excellent idea.” He spoke to reporters as he entered a private meeting with Clinton.
But Tunisian Foreign Minister Rafik Abdessalem, the conference host, noted that the final conference communique included no mention of military aid or outside intervention. “It is essential to have a safe transfer of power,” Abdessalem said, making clear his own government’s opposition to lethal aid. “We don’t want it to slip into civil war.’’
Clinton used sharply undiplomatic language to denounce Russia for its support of the Assad regime and its veto, along with China, of a U.N. resolution this month calling for him to step down.
“It is just despicable,” Clinton said, “and I ask, whose side are they on? They are clearly not on the side of the Syrian people.”
The Obama administration has undergone its own metamorphosis in the wake of Russian intransigence and amid the still-rising civilian death toll in Syria a year into the popular uprising. As videos and other reports of the carnage have flooded the international media, and prominent journalists have died trying to report on it, Syria has also become an issue in the U.S. presidential campaign, with Republican leaders calling for support
for arming those fighting against Assad.