WASHINGTON – With the violence in Syria soaring, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Monday she will join the French and British foreign ministers at the U.N. Security Council to press for a clear message of world support for Syria's besieged people. "We stand with you," Clinton told them in a statement.
Clinton said the U.S. will throw its weight behind an Arab-backed condemnation of President Bashar Assad's regime, which she said was brutally blocking the country's hopes of peacefully transitioning toward democracy. The escalating violence could destabilize Syria's neighbors in the powder keg that is the Middle East, she warned.
"The status quo is unsustainable," Clinton said. "The longer the Assad regime continues its attacks on the Syrian people and stands in the way of a peaceful transition, the greater the concern that instability will escalate and spill over throughout the region."
Assad's regime is intensifying an assault against army defectors and protesters. The U.N. has said more than 5,400 people have been killed in violence since March. At least 190 more were killed in the past five days.
Syrian forces heavily shelled the restive city of Homs on Monday and troops pushed back dissident troops from some suburbs of Damascus, the capital, activists said. The increased violence was occurring as the West tries to overcome Russian opposition and win a new U.N. resolution demanding a halt to Syria's crackdown on the 10-month-old uprising. Activists reported at least 28 civilians killed Monday.
The Obama administration is "intensely discussing with the Russians the real deterioration on the ground in Syria," White House spokesman Jay Carney said Monday. He said it was important that the U.N. Security Council take action, but described the administration as examining "how best to use all the levers" to end what he termed the Assad regime's "appalling and ultimately ineffective and harmful repression."
Without mentioning Russia, Carney cautioned governments continuing to side with Assad's regime. "As governments make decisions about where they stand ... it is important to calculate into your consideration the fact that he will go," he said of Assad. "The regime has lost control of the country and he will inevitably fall."
With talks on the resolution due to begin Tuesday, a French official said at least 10 members of the Security Council backed the measure, which includes a U.N. demand that Assad carry out an Arab League peace plan. The plan requires Assad to hand his powers over to his vice president and allow creation of a unity government within two months. He has rejected the proposal.
A resolution needs support from nine nations on the 15-member U.N. Security Council to go to a vote. Russia, along with the U.S., Britain, China and France, holds veto power.
Moscow insists it won't support any resolution that could open the door to an eventual foreign military intervention in Syria, the way an Arab-backed U.N. measure paved the way for NATO airstrikes in Libya. Instead, the Kremlin said Monday it was trying to put together negotiations in Moscow between Damascus and the opposition.
Assad's government has agreed to participate, it said. The opposition has in the past rejected any negotiations unless violence stops, and there was no immediate word whether any of the multiple groups that make up the anti-Assad camp would attend.
Russia appeared unwilling to move toward the U.S. position Monday. Clinton tried to reach Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov by telephone for about 24 hours but he is "apparently unavailable" while on visit to Australia, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said. She said Clinton would continue to seek a conversation with Lavrov ahead of the U.N. session.
Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the global body, said the Security Council had to take a stand.
"We have seen the consequences of neglect and inaction by this council over the course of the last 10 months," Rice said. Yet she lamented that a "couple of very powerful members" — referring to Russia and China — may still be preventing any meaningful action after using a double-veto to block a European-drafted condemnation of Syria in October.
Clinton's statement condemned the Assad regime's latest violence "in the strongest possible terms."
"The government has shelled civilian areas with mortars and tank fire and brought down whole buildings on top of their occupants," she said. She reiterated the Arab League's call for the Assad regime to halt all violence, withdraw military forces from residential areas, permit journalists and monitors to operate in Syria and release all political prisoners.
Associated Press writer Jim Kuhnhenn in Washington and Anita Snow at the United Nations contributed to this report.