STOCKHOLM -- U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Sunday pressed Russia to join international efforts for a political transition in Syria that would see President Bashar Assad driven from power, and suggested greater flexibility could come from a previous recalcitrant Moscow.
America's top diplomat told reporters in Sweden that she made clear in a telephone conversation this weekend with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that Moscow must do its part to help Syria turn the page after four decades under the Assad family control.
"My message to the foreign minister was very simple and straightforward," Clinton said. "We all have to intensify our efforts to achieve a political transition and Russia has to be at the table helping that to occur."
"The Syrian people want and deserve change and that should insofar as possible come about through peaceful means," she added, flanked by Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt and Foreign Minister Carl Bildt. "It must be change that represents the rights and dignity of all Syrians."
The comments represent Clinton's latest salvo in what has been a yearlong diplomatic tussle between Washington and Moscow over the Assad government's crackdown on protesters, who now have taken up an armed rebellion. Activists say as many as 13,000 people have died.
Russia has twice vetoed U.N. Security Council resolutions that would have set world penalties against the Syrian government. The U.S. has chastised its former Cold War foe for continuing to supply weapons to Assad's military and standing by a leader whom many countries have now declared illegitimate.
Still, Clinton hinted that the two countries might be able to come to an understanding on what would in all likelihood have to be a nonmilitary path forward in Syria. She stressed the importance of all the points of U.N. mediator Kofi Annan's peace plan, which includes a call for a political transition, and said Assad's departure "does not have to be a precondition, but it should be an outcome, so the people of Syria have a chance to express themselves.
The tone suggested some flexibility on the timing of a power change. She said Lavrov also spoke of transition in their private talks.
"He himself has referred to the Yemen example," Clinton said, referring to the deal this year that saw longtime dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh step down and his vice president lead a caretaker government. "It took a lot of time and effort with a number of countries who were involved at the table working to achieve a political transition and we would like to see the same occur in Syria."
Clinton, in Sweden as part of a weeklong Europe trip, spoke hours after Assad delivered a televised speech to the Syrian parliament, denying that his government had anything to do with last week's massacre of more than 100 people in the town of Houla, which drew worldwide condemnation.
Assad blamed foreign-backed terrorists and extremists for the bloodshed and pledged to press ahead with his military crackdown.
Clinton condemned the Assad government's "vicious and systematic attacks." With violence spilling over in recent days into neighboring Lebanon, she said she would meet in Turkey on Wednesday with neighbors of Syria who are "anxious about what is happening."
"We could see a full-fledged civil war with consequences that would bring in the rest of the region in ways that could be quite dangerous and are certainly unpredictable."
In Washington, Sen. Richard Lugar said the U.S. should work with Turkey to establish safe zones for retreating Syrian rebels. Lugar, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said those areas would be on Turkish territory and guarded by Turks.
Turkey has reacted to the uprising in Syria by accepting some 23,000 Syrian refugees and playing host to civilian and military members of the Syrian opposition. But Turkey has expressed concern about Syria allowing Kurdish rebels who are fighting Turkish forces to establish bases in Syrian territory.
TUNISIA: ZINE EL ABIDINE BEN ALI
<em>Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali applauds as he welcomes Tunisian swimming Olympic champion Oussama Mellouli upon arrival at Tunis-Carthage airport on December 22, 2010 after he won the men's 1500m freestyle event of the FINA short course world championships in Dubai. (FETHI BELAID/AFP/Getty Images)</em><br><br> The former Tunisian leader fled to Saudi Arabia on Jan. 14, 2011, after a monthlong uprising that sparked the larger Arab Spring. Ben Ali has been convicted in absentia by a Tunisian court for corruption and other crimes during his 23-year authoritarian rule.
LIBYA: MOAMMAR GADHAFI
<em>In this Sept. 8 2010 file photo, Libya's embattled Moammar Gadhafi fans his face during the Forum of Kings, Princes, Sultans, Sheikhs and Mayors of Africa in Tripoli. (AP Photo/Abdel Magid Al Fergany, file)</em><br><br> After leading Libya for four decades, Gadhafi spent his final weeks shuttling from hideout to hideout in his hometown of Sirte until rebel fighters captured and killed him in October.
YEMEN: ALI ABDULLAH SALEH
<em>Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh attends the opening session of the Arab Summit on March 27, 2010 the Libyan city of Sirte. (JOSEPH EID/AFP/Getty Images)</em><br><br> The Yemeni president clung to power for nearly a year in the face of mass protests against his rule, staying in place even after a bomb blast in June left him with burns over much of his body. Finally, under a U.S. and Gulf-brokered agreement, Saleh handed over power to his vice president, who earlier this year was elected president. But Saleh remains in Yemen and at the head of his party, and his relatives and loyalists still hold powerful positions in the military, security forces and government. Many Yemenis accuse him of using those tools to undermine his successor in hopes of one day returning to power.
SYRIA: BASHAR ASSAD
<em>In this Oct. 21, 2010 file photo, Syrian President Bashar Assad smiles as he shakes hands with Venesuela's President Hugo Chafez, not seen, at the Syrian presidential palace, in Damascus, Syria. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla, file)</em><br><br> Syrian President Bashar Assad is clinging to power, despite a 15-month-old uprising against his rule that has turned into a bloodbath and near civil war. Activists say at least 13,000 people have been killed. Assad's forces unleashed a withering crackdown against a revolt that began with peaceful protests, prompting many of the regime's opponents - joined by army defectors - to take up arms against the government. The military has responded with all-out assaults on opposition areas, leaving mass destruction in neighborhoods of some cities. The conflict also has taken on a worrying sectarian tone. The Sunni Muslim majority largely backs the opposition, while the Alawites and other minorities support Assad, himself an Alawite. There have been tit-for-tat killings and a string of suicide bombings against military buildings.
U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice tweets:
|@ AmbassadorRice : #Syria regime turned artillery, tanks and helicopters on its own men & women. It unleashed knife-wielding shabiha gangs on its own children.|
Russia says international envoy Kofi Annan will visit Moscow on Monday to discuss the ongoing crisis in Syria. Russia also called for an inquiry into an alleged massacre that took place in the village of Tramseh on Thursday. "We have no doubt that this wrongdoing serves the interests of those powers that are not seeking peace but persistently seek to sow the seeds of interconfessional and civilian conflict on Syrian soil," Russia's foreign ministry said in a statement, according to Reuters. Moscow did not apportion blame for the killings.
Read more on Reuters.com.
The Associated Press obtained a video that purports to show the aftermath of an alleged massacre in the village of Tramseh, near Hama.
How do Syria's fighters get their arms? An overview put together by Reuters explains that there are three gateways to the country -- Lebanon, Turkey, and Iraq.
Syrian rebels are smuggling small arms into Syria through a network of land and sea routes involving cargo ships and trucks moving through Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq, maritime intelligence and Free Syrian Army (FSA) officers say. Western and regional powers deny any suggestion they are involved in gun running. Their interest in the sensitive border region lies rather in screening to ensure powerful weapons such as surface to air missiles do not find their way to Islamist or other militants.
Read the full report here.
This citizen journalism image made from video provided by Shaam News Network SNN, purports to show a man mourning a victim killed by violence that, according to anti-regime activists, was carried out by government forces in Tremseh, Syria about 15 kilometers (nine miles) northwest of the central city of Hama, Thursday, July 12, 2012. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network, SNN)
According to the Hama Revolutionary Council, a Syrian opposition group, more than 220 people have been killed in a new alleged massacre in Taramseh. Earlier reports said more than 100 people were killed. "More than 220 people fell today in Taramseh," the Council said in a statement. "They died from bombardment by tanks and helicopters, artillery shelling and summary executions."
Fadi Sameh, an opposition activist from Taramseh, told Reuters he had left the town before the reported massacre but was in touch with residents. "It appears that Alawite militiamen from surrounding villages descended on Taramseh after its rebel defenders pulled out, and started killing the people. Whole houses have been destroyed and burned from the shelling," Sameh claimed.
Read more on Reuters.com.
Syrian activist Rami Jarrah tweets that Syrian State TV has confirmed deaths in Tremseh. "Terrorists" is often the term used by the Syrian regime for opposition forces.
|@ AlexanderPageSY : Syrian State TV: clashes between security apparatus & terrorists in #Tremseh of #Hama leaves large numbers of terrorists killed #Syria|
|@ Reuters : UPDATE: DEATH TOLL IN SYRIAN FORCES' ATTACK ON VILLAGE IN SYRIA'S HAMA REGION IS MORE THAN 200, MOSTLY CIVILIANS - OPPOSITION ACTIVISTS|