US warns of intervention as Syria close to civil war
AMERICA has raised the possibility of intervening in Syria without United Nations approval and accused Russia of pushing the country into civil war.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton bluntly criticised Russia's continued backing for President Bashar al-Assad's regime yesterday. This support was illustrated last night by the disclosure that a Russian cargo ship carrying weapons had docked in Syria last Saturday, one day after the massacre in Houla which claimed at least 108 civilian lives.
Addressing students in Denmark, Mrs Clinton urged Russia to use its influence on Mr Assad to curb the fighting.
"The Syrians are not going to listen to us. They will listen -- maybe -- to the Russians, so we have to keep pushing them," she said.
Russian officials, added Mrs Clinton, "are telling me they don't want to see a civil war. I have been telling them their policy is going to help to contribute to a civil war."
Western governments believe that diplomatic cover afforded by the Kremlin has emboldened Mr Assad and encouraged him to resist pressure to negotiate a settlement of the conflict.
Earlier, Susan Rice, the American ambassador to the UN, said that Russia's veto-wielding membership of the Security Council would not necessarily prevent international action.
If the violence worsened and the peace plan proposed by Kofi Annan, the former UN secretary general, made no progress, some countries would consider whether to bypass Russian and Chinese opposition in the UN.
Leaders of the Free Syrian Army, the rebel movement, issued a statement giving the regime until today to obey the Annan plan, or they would formally abandon a ceasefire.
But Mrs Clinton noted the obstacles to any Western military intervention, starting with the probable Russian and Chinese vetoes which would prevent any action from having UN support.
"We're nowhere near putting together any type of coalition other than to alleviate the suffering," she said.
There are now growing fears that Syria risks becoming a "failed state". The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon spelled out the dangers, saying: "The massacre of civilians of the sort seen last weekend could plunge Syria into a catastrophic civil war -- a civil war from which the country would never recover." (©Daily Telegraph, London)