ABC News' Kirit Radia reports:
The Obama administration has been reluctant to call on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down despite the regime’s increasingly bloody crackdown on protestors seeking his ouster.
U.S. officials tell ABC News that there was a debate between the White House and the State Department this week over whether to take that step. The White House wanted President Obama go beyond his May 19 statement that Assad must reform or get out of the way, while the State Department cautioned that it was worth saving that arrow in the quiver.
Pressed repeatedly this afternoon by reporters asking why the U.S. has yet to call on President Assad to step down, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton eventually said “I come from the school that actions speak louder than words.”
To that end she said the U.S. is trying to develop international consensus for a global response to the violence in Syria.
“We are working around the clock to try to gather up as much international support for strong actions against the Syrian regime as possible,” Clinton said.
Some of that consensus emerged yesterday when the United Nations Security Council for the first time condemned Syria for human rights violations in response to the uprising. However, it took a severe uptick in violence this week to push that approval. In the restive city of Hama, the heart of the opposition movement, over 100 people have reportedly been killed in the past 24 hours.
“Sometimes you lose sight of the incredible tragedy unfolding on the streets by looking at the numbers, which are so numbing, but the shooting death of a 1-year-old recently by the Syrian regime tanks and troops is a very stark example of what is going on,” Clinton said, noting that the US believes the regime is responsible for over 2,000 deaths so far.
The Security Council will meet again next week to discuss the situation in Syria. Yesterday the British permanent representative to the United Nations suggested there could be a push for international sanctions if the violence persists.
Just today the Treasury Department announced the latest round of sanctions on Syrian officials, adding to a list of over two dozen that have been sanctioned since the uprising began several months ago. Clinton said work continues to get other countries on board to take punitive measures again Syria.
“We are seized of the concerns posed by what is happening in Syria. And we know that it's taken time to pull together a broader international coalition to speak out against what is happening in Syria, but we are committed to doing all we can to increase the pressure, including additional sanctions, but not just U.S. sanctions, because frankly we don't have a lot of business with Syria. We need to get Europeans and others. We need to get the Arab states. We need to get a much louder, more effective chorus of voices that are putting pressure on the Assad regime, and we're working to obtain them,” she said.