PARIS -- Officials from around the globe meeting in Paris on Friday agreed to seek new sanctions against Syria at the U.N. Security Council, though the key veto-wielding nations of China and Russia were absent from the gathering.
But members of the Syrian National Council, which represents groups opposed to the rule of Syrian President Bashar Assad, repeatedly expressed doubt about the value of additional international summits they fear focus more on “words than actions” while daily violence continues to escalate their homeland's humanitarian crisis.
“A military intervention, starting with a 'no-fly' zone -- this would encourage defections!” said Hassan Hachimi, a member of the council's foreign affairs department, following word that Syrian Brig. Gen. Manaf Tlas had defected and was expected in Paris shortly.
“Even going to the U.N. to try to push for a new resolution without the support of Russia and China is just a waste of more time that we don’t have,” said Hachimi.
The 107 countries and organizations participating in the latest "Friends of Syria" session also discussed ways to increase humanitarian aid and help ensure perpetrators of war crimes are punished.
Despite the opposition's fears, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and other officials argued that steady diplomatic progress had been made despite resistance from Russia and China, which in the past have blocked tougher U.N. action against their Syrian allies.
“The Friends of Syria has been a very useful device to put pressure on the Syrian regime,” said Clinton. “The regime is becoming more isolated, which will hasten its end, because its business support will finally turn on it.”
Assad’s “ability to finance his war grows more difficult by the day," she said. "What’s keeping him afloat is money from Iran and assistance from Russia and the failure of counties represented here to tighten and enforce sanctions.”
Clinton pleaded with the nations present at the summit to make China and Russia “pay” for backing Assad.
“What can every nation and group represented here do?” she said. “Demand that [Russia and China] get off the sidelines, and begin to support the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people. It is frankly not enough just to come to the Friends of Syrian people.”
“I don’t think Russia and China believe they are paying any price at all -- nothing at all -- for standing up on behalf of the Assad regime,” she said.
A working group will meet in Doha, Qatar, on July 19 to coordinate ways to stiffen sanctions.
-- Devorah Lauter
Photo: Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton listens during the Friends of Syria meeting in Paris on Friday. Credit: Brendan Smialowski / Associated Press