This was Clinton’s first visit since President Obama and Karzai signed an agreement May 1 that commits the United States to supporting Afghanistan for the next decade in economic development, rule of law and security, among other areas, as U.S. and NATO forces withdraw from the country.
On Friday in Paris, Clinton denounced Russia and China for “blockading” international efforts to bring an end to the Syrian crisis, as confirmation reached a Friends of Syria meeting there that a powerful Syrian military officer had defected from the government of President Bashar al-Assad.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told high-ranking representatives that Maj. Gen. Manaf Tlas, a longtime member of Assad’s inner circle, had fled Damascus. In a news conference later Friday, Clinton seized the moment to encourage others close to Assad to do the same.
“The Syrian people will remember the choices you make in the coming days, and so will the world,” Clinton said. “It is time to abandon the dictator, embrace your countrymen and women, and get on the right side of history.”
News of the high-level defection amounted to a glimmer of good news for more than 80 nations and international organizations trying to salvage an effort by U.N. envoy Kofi Annan to end the 16-month uprising in Syria, where the situation is steadily deteriorating.
Clinton told the conference that Russia and China, which had declined invitations to attend, “are holding up progress — blockading it — [and] that is no longer tolerable.” The chief U.S. diplomat said Moscow and Beijing were not “paying any price at all — nothing at all — for standing up on behalf of the Assad regime,” and she urged the two veto-wielding U.N. Security Council members to support a new U.N resolution based on the Annan proposal that they endorsed in Geneva last weekend.
Her comments reflected rising frustration, in particular, with the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin, which has steadfastly refused to abandon Assad or even cut its ties with him, despite signing on to Annan’s plan.
The United States and others pushing for Assad’s ouster remain reluctant to intervene directly in Syria, especially without an international legal mandate, which Russia has blocked at the United Nations. Annan’s plan calls for a transitional government based on the “mutual consent” of opposition groups and members of the Syrian government.
Russia, the Syrian government’s principal arms supplier, has interpreted that language to mean that Assad might remain in power in a newly constituted government. U.S. officials, however, have insisted that “mutual consent” means opposition leaders could veto participation by Assad or others “with blood on their hands” — a point that Clinton emphasized Friday.