Clinton: Time running out for diplomacy with Iran

By Bradley Klapper

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, March 31 2012 1:50 p.m. MDT

She recognized the kingdom's efforts to meet increased market demand for countries weaning themselves off Iranian petroleum imports. She also said the U.S. and Sunni governments of the region would cooperate to counter Iranian threats against shipping in the Gulf and Tehran's support for "the Assad regime's murderous campaign."

Before arriving later Saturday in Turkey, where she planned to attend a 60-nation "Friends of the Syrian People" meeting Sunday, Clinton lamented what she called the Assad government's shelling of civilian neighborhoods and targeting of mosques and churches.

She said these attacks have continued despite Assad's acceptance of U.N. mediator Kofi Annan's plan to end the crisis. That plan includes an immediate cease-fire and an eventual democratic transition.

In a concluding statement, the U.S. and the other countries at Saturday's meeting urged Annan to issue a timeline for putting his plan in place.

Western diplomats want to give diplomacy a chance, having invested months of effort to persuade Russia and China, veto-holding members of the U.N. Security Council, to unite behind a common approach. But they, like the Syrian opposition, fear Assad may only be playing for time.

Assad said he wants the plan to succeed, but insists the opposition must first commit to a cease-fire.

The West says the Syrian government must pull back its troops first, and U.S. officials say much of the diplomacy right now concerns the choreography of how the two sides would lay down their arms.

More than 9,000 people have been killed in Syria's violence since last March, according to U.N. estimates.

Gulf countries such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar are among the most impatient and have spoken about possible military intervention, from arming Syria's badly overmatched rebels to creating safe zones from which the rebels can operate.

"I believe we all agree on the need for an immediate cease-fire to the systematic killing," Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said at a news conference with Clinton.

He said the Syrian government's crackdown has "reached the level, at the very least described as crimes against humanity, on which the international community should not remain silent."

Washington fears a military escalation could lead to all-out civil war and play into Assad's hands, considering his vastly more powerful military.

Clinton said officials meeting in Turkey would discuss "additional steps to increase pressure on the regime, provide humanitarian assistance despite the efforts of the regime to block access and advance plans for an inclusive, democratic and orderly transition that addresses the aspirations of the Syrian people."

Clinton said she regretted the decision by the Emirates' this past week to close down the U.S.-based National Democratic Institute and Germany's Konrad Adenauer Foundation. She said she expressed her displeasure in a meeting Saturday with the foreign minister and said the U.S. would continue to press its case.

Associated Press writer Maggie Michael in Cairo contributed to this report.

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