TOKYO – Dozens of countries meeting Friday to discuss sanctions on the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad condemned the deteriorating humanitarian situation there but also began looking ahead to ways to help the nation recover once Assad is no longer in power.
The "Friends of the Syrian People" coalition's working group on sanctions concluded the one-day meeting with a call for increased pressure on Assad to stop the violence in his country. Activists say the fighting has claimed more than 40,000 lives and escalated into a full-blown civil war.
The coalition of nearly 70 countries, including the U.S., the European Union and Arab League, last met in September. It was established after the U.N. Security Council failed to agree on a resolution condemning the Syrian regime, due to opposition from Russia and China. This was the fifth time they have met.
"The group condemned in the strongest terms the incessant killings, bombings of residential areas, and destruction, as well as the systematic and gross violation of human rights in Syria," it said in a closing statement.
Host Japan said the talks were intended to give participating countries a forum to review the effectiveness of sanctions already in place and consider new measures to keep them from being circumvented.
Current sanctions include a freeze on the assets of Assad and other Syrian government leaders, along with an embargo on oil and arms trade. No new sanctions were announced at the meeting.
Officials said the delegates discussed how the international community can help Syria recover and rebuild after its post-Assad transition has begun. They did not release details of what such measures might include.
"We are ready to start looking into the future," said Francesco Fini, the deputy head of sanctions policy for the EU's European External Action Service.
He said that once the fighting is over, Syria will need help with its reconstruction, and added: "We hope this day will come as soon as possible."
Fini said sanctions so far have been an effective tool for putting pressure on Assad but cannot work without increased political and diplomatic pressure.