U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton joined senior Arab and European diplomats at the U.N. Security Council in denouncing Syria's violent crackdown on civilians, and urged President Bashar al-Assad to yield power.
The Security Council meeting represented an extraordinary scene -- with the secretary general of the Arab League rebuking a fellow Arab state and calling for outside pressure to nudge an Arab leader from power.
It provided a boost -- though by no means a certain one -- to the Western and Arab effort to press Syria's most powerful remaining supporter, Russia, to permit the adoption of a Security Council resolution endorsing a plan for a political transition in Damascus.
"The Arab League has come to the council seeking support of the international community for a negotiated, peaceful political solution to this crisis and a responsible, democratic transition in Syria," Clinton told the council. "We all have a choice: stand with the people of Syria and the region or become complicit in the continuing violence there."
Full speech after the break.
SECRETARY OF STATE
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON
REMARKS TO THE UN SECURITY COUNCIL ON SYRIA
NEW YORK, NY
TUESDAY, JANUARY 31, 2012
Thank you, Mr. President.
Let me begin by thanking Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim and Secretary General el Araby for their thorough briefing. The Arab League has demonstrated real and important leadership in this crisis.
For many months, the people of the region and the world have watched in horror as the Assad regime executed a campaign of violence against its own citizens. Civilians gunned down in the street. Women and children tortured and killed. No one is safe, not even officials of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent. According to U.N. estimates, more than 5,400 civilians have already died -- and that number is rising fast.
The regime also continues to arbitrarily detain Syrian citizens -- such as the activists Yahia al-Shurbaji and Anas al-Shaghri -- simply for demanding dignity and universal rights.
To date the evidence is clear that Assad's forces are initiating nearly all the attacks that kill civilians, but as more citizens take up arms to resist the regime's brutality, violence is increasingly likely to spiral out of control.
Already the challenges ahead are daunting: a crumbling economy, rising sectarian tensions, a cauldron of instability in the heart of the Middle East. Fears about what follows Assad, especially among Syria's minority communities, are understandable. Indeed, Assad and his cronies are working hard to pit Syria's ethnic and religious groups against each other, risking a descent into civil war.
In response to this violent crackdown, the Arab League launched an unprecedented diplomatic intervention, sending monitors into Syria's beleaguered cities and towns and offering Assad many chances to change course. These observers were greeted by thousands of protestors eager to share their aspirations for universal rights and their stories of the regime's brutality. But as the Arab League report makes clear, the regime did not respect its pledges or the presence of the monitors, and instead responded with excessive and escalating violence.
In the past few days, the regime's security forces have intensified their assault, shelling civilian areas in Homs and other cities. This weekend, the Arab League suspended its monitoring mission, pointing to the regime's intransigence and the mounting civilian casualties.
Now, responding to the will of the people and nations of the region, the Arab League has come to this Council seeking the support of the international community for a negotiated, peaceful political solution to this crisis and a responsible, democratic transition in Syria.
We all have a choice: Stand with the people of Syria and the region or become complicit in the continuing violence there.
The United States urges the Security Council to back the Arab League's demand that the Syrian Government immediately stop all attacks against civilians and guarantee the freedom of peaceful demonstrations. In accordance with the Arab League's plan, Syria must also release all arbitrarily detained citizens, return its military and security forces to their barracks, and allow full and unhindered access for monitors, humanitarian workers, and journalists.
And we urge the Security Council to back the Arab League's call for an inclusive Syrian-led political process to effectively address the legitimate aspirations and concerns of Syria's people, conducted in an environment free from violence, fear, intimidation, and extremism.
I know that some members here are concerned that we are headed toward another Libya. That is a false analogy. Syria is a unique situation that requires its own approach, tailored to the specific circumstances on the ground. And that's what the Arab League has proposed - a path for a political transition that would preserve Syria's unity and institutions.
This may not be the exact plan we ourselves would have designed. I know that other nations feel the same way. But it represents the best efforts of Syria's neighbors to chart a way forward, and it deserves a chance to work.
It would be a mistake to minimize or understate the magnitude of the challenge Syrians face in trying to build rule of law and civil society on the ruins of a brutal, failed dictatorship. This will be hard. The results are far from certain. Success is far from guaranteed. But the alternative -- more of Assad's brutal rule -- is no alternative at all.
We all know that change is coming to Syria. Despite its ruthless tactics, the Assad regime's reign of terror will end and the people of Syria will chart their own destiny. The question is how many more innocent civilians will die before Assad bows to the inevitable, and how unstable a country he will leave behind.
The regime in Damascus has driven Syria to the brink of chaos, and the longer Assad continues, the harder it will be to rebuild after he is gone. Citizens inside and outside Syria have begun planning for a democratic transition, from the Syrian National Council to the courageous grass-roots Local Councils across the country who are organizing under the most dangerous and difficult circumstances. But every day that goes by their task grows more difficult.
The future of Syria as a strong and unified nation depends on thwarting Assad's cynical "divide and conquer" strategy. It will take all Syrians working together -- Alawis and Christians hand-in-hand with Sunnis and Druze, Arabs side-by-side with Kurds -- to ensure that the new Syria is governed by the rule of law, respects and protects the universal rights of every citizen regardless of ethnicity or sect, and takes on the widespread corruption that has marked the Assad regime.
For this to work, Syria's minorities will have to join in shaping Syria's future, and their rights, and their voices, will have to be heard, protected, and respected. Let me say to them directly today: We hear your fears and we honor your aspirations. Do not let Assad exploit them to extend this crisis.
Leaders of Syria's business community, military, and other institutions will also have to recognize that their futures lie with the state and not the regime. Syria belongs to its 23 million citizens, not to one man or his family. And change can still be accomplished without dismantling the state or producing new tyranny.
It is time for the international community to put aside our own differences and send a clear message of support to the people of Syria. The alternative -- spurning the Arab League, abandoning the Syrian people, emboldening the dictator -- would compound this tragedy, mark a failure of our shared responsibility, and shake the credibility of the United Nations.
The United States is ready to work with every member in this chamber to pass a resolution that supports the Arab League's efforts to end the crisis, upholds the rights of the Syrian people, and restores peace to Syria.
That is the goal of the Arab League, that is goal of the Syrian people, and that should be the goal of this Council.
Longtime Washington Post correspondent Colum Lynch reports on all things United Nations for Turtle Bay.