WASHINGTON: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Tuesday that Turkey, Saudi Arabia and other governments should call on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down, but declined to make that call herself.
“It's not going to be any news if the United States says Assad needs to go,” Clinton said, suggesting the world's reaction to such a move would be, “Ok, fine. What's next?” If Turkey says it, if King Abdullah (of Saudi Arabia) says it, if other people say it, there's no way the Assad regime can ignore it,” Clinton said during an appearance with Defence Secretary Leon Panetta at the US National Defence University.
US officials said privately last week that the United States was preparing to explicitly urge Assad to quit power over his regime's deadly crackdown on pro-democracy protests, but Clinton made clear Washington was now not ready to do so.
Indicating the Turks, Saudis and other regional powers have more influence on Syria, Clinton said “we don't have very much going on with Syria because of the long history of challenging problems with that.”
When pressed on whether President Barack Obama's administration should demand that Assad step down, Clinton replied: “I am a big believer in results over rhetoric.”
She said the US diplomatic approach toward Syria amounts to “smart power,” noting such an approach is an alternative to using brute force and unilateralism.
“It's being smart enough to say, 'you know what, we want a bunch of people singing out of the same hymn book.'”
The Obama administration has been working with the international community to ratchet up pressure on Assad, who has been deaf to growing calls to stop a crackdown that human rights groups say has killed more than 2,000 people since mid-March.
Clinton sought to deflect suggestions that the United States was taking a back seat to other countries.
“We are leading, but part of leading is making sure you get other people on the field,” she said.