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Clinton Passes Up Chance to Call on Assad to Step Down as Obama Remains Silent

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, accompanied by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, speaks during an event at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C., Aug. 16.AP

One week after officials put out the word that the Obama administration would call for Syrian President Bashar Assad to step down, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has repeatedly passed up the opportunity to do just that. 

Clinton, speaking alongside Defense Secretary Leon Panetta Tuesday at a forum in Washington, D.C., defended the U.S. response to Syria and Libya. And she suggested the time was not yet ripe to go public with a call for Assad's ouster or resignation. 

"I am a big believer in results over rhetoric," Clinton said, when asked whether the administration would call on Assad to relinquish power. She noted that she wants to know that other nations in the region are on board in a uniform response.

"It's not going to be any news if the United States says, 'Assad needs to go.' OK, fine. What's next? If Turkey says it, if King Abdullah says it, if other people say it, there is no way the Assad regime can ignore it."  

It's unclear whether the administration is waiting for a particular development in order to outline a firmer public stance on Assad, whose forces have launched an aggressive and deadly campaign since the start of Ramadan that has resulted in dozens of deaths. The four-day death toll in the Syrian city of Latakia reportedly reached 35 on Tuesday.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland suggested Tuesday that the administration wants to see more out of the United Nations. She said that while the U.N. has issued a presidential statement condemning the Assad regime, "we don't have a Security Council resolution because some countries have still not come off the fence." 

Though the State Department claims it wants to hear more from other nations, U.S. officials told Fox News last Tuesday that the administration was planning to explicitly call for Assad to go. 

President Obama has since set off on a bus tour of rural states to talk about the economy. 

Clinton noted the administration is working on other fronts to pressure the regime beyond potentially crafting a new statement. The State Department on Monday suggested that new sanctions could have an impact. Nuland acknowledged that such measures take time to work.

On Monday, Turkey's foreign minister called for an immediate end to the crackdown. And Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain this month recalled their Damascus ambassadors, a step the U.S. has not taken. 

Clinton said Tuesday that the response in Syria stands as an example of "smart power." She acknowledged that the "international chorus of condemnation" is growing. 

"I talk a lot about smart power, where it's not just brute force, it's not just unilateralism," she said. "It's being smart enough to say, you know what, we want a bunch of people singing out of the same hymn book. And we want them singing a song of universal freedom, human rights, democracy, everything that we have stood for and pioneered over 235 years."

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