Obama: Russia, China not ‘signed on' to removing Syria's Assad

ByOlivier Knox
June 19, 2012, 9:43 PM

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President Barack Obama admitted late Tuesday that, despite his fervent in-person appeals, leaders of Russia and China had not "signed on" to his diplomatic campaign for the ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as part of a plan to end the country's bloody violence.

Obama described his meetings Monday with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Tuesday with Chinese President Hu Jintao as "very candid" and "intensive" on the issue of Syria and the question of Assad's removal.

"If you're asking me whether they signed on to that proposition, I don't think it would be fair to say that they are there yet," Obama said at a press conference in Mexico, where he was attending a summit of the Group of 20 nations.

"But I'm going to keep on making the argument. And my expectation is, is that at some point there's a recognition that it's hard to envision a better future for Syria while Assad is still there," the president told reporters.

Moscow and Beijing, veto-wielding permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, have blocked international initiatives aimed at using sanctions to end Assad's 15-month crackdown on Syria's opposition. Outside observers have put the death toll at 10,000, or as high as 15,000. And Assad has refused to implement a plan crafted by former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan to end the violence.

Obama suggested that the United States and its partners may be on the cusp of unveiling a new plan that sketches out how Assad might leave power. "My hope is that we can have those conversations in the coming week or two and that we can present  to the world -- but most importantly to the Syrian people -- a pathway whereby this conflict can be resolved," the president said.

But he acknowledge the difficulties in winning over Russia and China.

"There's no doubt that Russia, which historically has had a relationship with Syria, as well as China, which is generally wary of commenting on what it considers the internal affairs of other countries, are and have been more resistant to applying the kind of pressure that's necessary to achieve that political transition," he said.

"I do think they recognize the dangers of all-out civil war. I do not think they condone the massacres that we've witnessed and I think they believe that everybody would be better served if Syria had a mechanism for ceasing the violence and creating a legitimate government," Obama said. "I think what is fair to say is they recognize that the current situation is grave. It does not serve their interests."

And Obama made clear that he wouldn't budge on his calls for Assad to go.

"Assad has lost legitimacy. And when you massacre your own citizens in the ways that we've seen, it's impossible to conceive of an orderly political transition that leaves Assad in power," he said. "I don't see a scenario in which Assad stays and violence is reduced."

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