As the meeting took place, around a table decked with white roses in a small hotel conference room, there were new reports of violence in the central Syrian city of Homs. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights quoted witnesses as saying 34 bodies were dumped in the streets Monday night.
One resident of Homs, who declined to give his name because of safety concerns, said dozens of people had been arrested and executed in a public square in the city.
Also Tuesday, the Arab League said it would maintain sanctions against Syria, after the Assad government said it would reject a proposal for military monitors and observers unless the league lifted suspension of Syria’s membership. The United States and Europe have imposed economic sanctions.
The Geneva meeting was the most high-profile encounter to date between the opposition and the Obama administration. The State Department official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity about the private session, said Clinton asked about the council’s transition plans and
its recognition of the need to reach out to Syria’s myriad
minority groups and came away impressed.
The council leaders did not ask for a public U.S. endorsement or recognition, the official said, and indicated that they saw a continuation of Arab League efforts as the best way forward.
But “what’s new here, and fairly significant,” the official said, “is that the secretary of state had this meeting.” Council leaders had previously met with Clinton’s counterparts in Britain, France and Germany.
In a statement to the seven council leaders before reporters were ushered from the room, Clinton said, “We certainly believe that if Syrians unite, they together can succeed in moving their country to [a] better future.” She said the United States is “committed to helping . . . make this transition.”
U.S. envoy heads back
The meeting came as the U.S. ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, was returning to Damascus, a month and a half after leaving for “consultations” in Washington following what the administration said was a government-backed campaign of intimidation against him, including an attack on his home in the Syrian capital.
A White House statement said that Ford has “our full confidence and support” and that his presence in Syria “is among the most effective ways to send a message to the Syrian people that the United States stands in solidarity with them.” It also called on the Syrian government to uphold international obligations to protect him and allow U.S. officials there “to conduct their work free of intimidation or obstacles.”