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Clinton: We need Assad’s consent to put troops in Syria

Clinton: We need Assad’s consent to put troops in Syria

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu had a clear and unified message coming out of their meeting in Washington, D.C. Monday: They are looking for a political solution in Syria and won’t consider putting international troops there unless the Syrian regime agrees.

Clinton and Davotoglu spent the afternoon preparing for the upcoming inaugural meeting of the "Friends of Syria" group this weekend in Tunisia.  Following the meeting, they both urged the international community to support the Arab League’s recommendations for Syria following their Sunday meeting in Cairo, which included a request for a U.N.-Arab peacekeeping force in Syria. But Clinton said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who the State Department accuses of murdering civilians, would have to agree first.

"We support the Arab League’s decisions coming out of the meeting in Cairo to try to end the violence and move toward a transition. And we look forward to working closely with them in the lead-up to the meeting in Tunisia. There are a lot of challenges to be discussed as to how to put into effect all of their recommendations," Clinton said. "And certainly, the peacekeeping request is one that will take agreement and consensus. So we don’t know that it is going to be possible to persuade Syria. They’ve already, as of today, rejected that."

Clinton then explained the main mission in Syria is to persuade the Assad regime to change course and give up its hold on power voluntarily so that a process can begin to change the Syrian system of government.

"Ultimately, it’s going to be important to convince the Assad regime that they are leading Syria into the outcome that we all deplore. We do not want to see a civil war in Syria," Clinton said. "No one wants to see a civil war in Syria. So we have to encourage the Assad regime, and those who support it, to understand that there’s either a path toward peacemaking and democratic transition – which is what we are promoting – or there’s a path that leads toward chaos and violence, which we deplore."

The Cable followed up and asked Clinton what U.S. assistance could be provided to help protect the Syrian people just in case Assad doesn’t have a change of heart and allow foreign troops into Syria or give up his power voluntarily.

Clinton declined to answer that question, but Davutoglu said there were a number of contingency plans that he and the U.S. are working on, although he hoped they would never need to be put into effect.

"Of course, as decision makers, politicians, we have to think all the options and scenarios. Some scenarios could be not opted for, but unfortunately in Syria today, there is such a situation we are alarm[ed] and we are all worried about. But today, the agenda in our consultations and also in Tunisian meeting will be a political solution, diplomatic solution, and humanitarian access as early as possible," he said. "At this moment, we are talking on diplomatic and humanitarian steps to be taken, but for other scenarios we hope that those things will not be needed. But we need to think about contingencies as well."

Clinton also revealed a bit about her personal diplomatic strategy during the briefing. Davutoglu mentioned that Clinton annually hosts a Trans-Atlantic dinner where she brings officials from the EU, Turkey, and the United States together for a meal as part of her support of Turkey’s EU membership.

"It’s my eating diplomacy," Clinton said. "I figure, you eat together enough times, you work through all the problems."