WASHINGTON, Aug. 11 (UPI) — The Obama administration is poised to harden its position and call on Syrian President Bashar Assad to give up power, administration officials said.
President Barack Obama “believes that Syria will be better off … without President Assad,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said Wednesday.
The administration will cite the brutality Assad has inflicted on Syrians in the five-month uprising and Assad’s failure to put into practice meaningful political reforms despite multiple promises to do so, the officials said.
The precise timing and content of a presidential statement was still under discussion, officials told Britain’s The Guardian, partly because the administration wants a full account of Assad’s nearly 7-hour meeting Tuesday with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.
During that Damascus meeting Turkey warned Assad he would face the fate of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi — whose regime is being attacked by NATO airstrikes — if he didn’t end the bloody crackdown on anti-government protesters and begin a process of reform.
The meeting was followed Wednesday by a demand from Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan that Assad end the violence and change his ways within 15 days.
The official Syrian Arab News Agency said Wednesday Assad would continue the crackdown and “not be tolerant in pursuing the armed terrorist groups for the sake of protecting [the] homeland’s stability and citizens’ security.” The regime refers to government opponents as “terrorist groups.”
Assad admitted Wednesday Syrian security forces had made “some mistakes” in the early stages of the uprising, which began March 15 when residents of a small southern city took to the streets to protest the March 6 arrest and torture of students who had put up pro-democracy graffiti.
He told deputy foreign minister delegates from U.N. Security Council members Brazil, India and South Africa that “efforts were under way to prevent their recurrence,” a statement released by India’s U.N. mission said.
Rights groups say more than 2,000 people have died in protests since the uprising started, with at least 35 deaths reported Wednesday.
Assad told the delegation “political reforms were being finalized in consultation with the people of Syria and the national dialogue would continue to give shape to the new laws and to arrive at a suitable model for the economy,” the Indian statement said.
It said Assad promised a multi-party democracy by the end of this year and complete constitutional revisions by February or March 2012.
Brazil, India and South Africa have refused to support strong U.N. action against Syria.
The 15-member council was privately briefed on Syria Wednesday afternoon by Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Oscar Fernandez-Taranco.
Britain’s Deputy U.N. Ambassador Philip Parham told reporters later he considered the briefing “chilling” and “depressing.”
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said Washington had evidence of “crimes” in Syria and was ready to use it to step up pressure on Assad.
“He has lost his legitimacy … and Syria would be a better place without him,” she said, echoing Carney’s words.
Syrian U.N. Ambassador Bashar Jaafar said the Western envoys “tried to manipulate the truth and to hide important facts and elements related to the so-called situation in Syria.”
“Deliberately they ignored and avoided making reference to very important and positive progress that has been achieved in my country,” he said, citing Davutoglu’s meeting Tuesday and the Brazilian, Indian and South African meeting Wednesday.