U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Friday an increasing stream of defectors from the Syrian army, including a Syrian general who had been close to President Bashar al-Assad, showed the situation was shifting in the country.
“If people like him, and like the generals and colonels and others who have recently defected to Turkey are any indication, regime insiders and the military establishment are starting to vote with their feet,” Clinton told reporters in Paris, Reuters reported.
Clinton earlier urged world powers at the “Friends of Syria” meeting to show Russia and China they would pay a price for impeding progress towards a democratic transition in Syria. Participants in the meeting were cheered by reports of the defection of army general Manaf Tlas.
The head of the main opposition Syrian National Council hailed Friday the defection of Tlas and said they wanted to work with him.
“This is a major blow to the Assad regime,” Abdul Basset Seyda told journalists at a meeting in Paris. “We cannot comment where he is. We are going to seek some cooperation with him. We call for other defections,” he said, according to AFP.
Russia, meanwhile, called “inappropriate” Clinton’s remarks at the “Friends of Syria” meeting that Moscow was holding up progress in solving the Syria conflict.
“The statement is inappropriate,” Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov told the Interfax news agency in an interview, saying the comment was not in line with the recent declaration signed in Geneva.
Clinton had rounded on Russia and China, telling delegates from over 100 countries gathered in Paris that the two veto-wielding U.N. Security Council members were blocking progress towards peace.
The “Friends of Syria” meeting insisted that Assad would have to quit and sought a resolution under the U.N. charter’s Chapter 7, which provides for possible sanctions and military action.
But it stressed that the immediate action under Article 41 provided only for non-military intervention.
A peace plan drawn up by former U.N. chief Kofi Annan, which insists on a cessation of violence by all sides, has made little headway and activists say an estimated 16,500 people have now died in the 16-month uprising.
A meeting last weekend of world powers in Geneva agreed to a transition plan that the Syria opposition, the West and Russia have interpreted differently, but Clinton insisted the plan amounted to a call for Assad to go.
“It is imperative to go back to the Security Council and demand implementation of Kofi Annan’s plan including the Geneva communique that Russia and China have already agreed to,” Clinton said.
“We should go back and ask for a resolution in the Security Council that imposes real and immediate consequences for non-compliance, including sanctions,” ranging from economic measures to military force, she added.