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'Friends Of Syria' Cheer Defection Of Top General


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Melissa Block. The third and largest gathering of the so-called Friends of Syria took place in Paris today. Envoys from 107 nations came together to discuss how to put an end to almost 16 months of violence that has left thousands of people dead.

The conference took on a sense of urgency as news came that Syrian government tanks had overrun yet another village. At the same time, participants were cheered by news that a prominent general, once a close friend of President Bashar al-Assad, had defected.

NPR's Eleanor Beardsley was at the Paris meeting. She has this report.

LAURENT FABIUS: (Foreign language spoken).

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Hailing the defection of a top general, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said there was clear momentum building against Assad and his days were numbered. Fabius detailed the decisions taken at today's gathering. Most importantly, the international community will seek a new U.N. Security Council resolution based on what is called Chapter Seven, an article that would authorize the use of force to implement a power transition plan for Syria. That plan was agreed upon last week in Geneva. It was signed by Arab countries, the West and Russia and China.

While the plan did not explicitly exclude Bashar al-Assad from an interim government, Fabius said the Syrian leader's participation is out of the question.

FABIUS: (Foreign language spoken).

BEARDSLEY: For everyone here today, without exception, it is crystal clear that Mr. Bashar al-Assad must leave power, said Fabius, and the sooner the better. Participants also agreed to step up sanctions and increase humanitarian assistance. Notably absent today were two of Assad's principle backers, Russia and China.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had a message for them.

HILLARY CLINTON: To those few nations that still have influence in Damascus, they need to step up and use all their leverage to make sure Assad sees the writing on the wall. Sitting on the sidelines or, even worse, enabling the regime's brutality, would be a grievous mistake.

BEARDSLEY: A senior Russian official sharply criticized Clinton, saying her statement goes against the spirit of last week's agreement in Geneva. As ministers and diplomats in Paris hashed out new ways to pressure Assad, members of the Syrian opposition gathered in an adjoining room.

Many activists said they feared the West would not ramp up the pressure on Russia because it needs Moscow's cooperation on issues deemed more important than the Syrian people, such as Iran's suspect nuclear program.

Syrian opposition member Kamal al-Labwani says, despite the earnest statements today, the Syrian people know the international community will not fight their battle with Assad.

KAMAL AL-LABWANI: This is our battle and we have a lot of activists. Just we need support. We can fight this regime. We can knock down this regime if you allowed us - give us (unintelligible).

BEARDSLEY: Labwani says international recognition, humanitarian aid and sanctions will help enormously, as long as the opposition also gets plenty of anti-tank weapons.

Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.