“These defections send a message to Assad, but perhaps more importantly they send a message to those still left, which I hope they hear and heed,” Clinton told reporters. “We have no doubt about the outcome here. We know that the Assad regime will fall. The question is how many more people will have to die before that happens. We want to see those on the inside hasten the day when a new transition can begin.”
The gathering in France’s capital aimed to win wider support for a transition plan unveiled by Annan last week. Joined by America’s allies, Clinton called for “real and immediate consequences for non-compliance, including sanctions,” against the Assad regime.
But with neither Moscow nor Beijing in attendance, much remained dependent on persuading the two U.N. veto-wielding powers to force Assad into abiding by a cease-fire and the transition strategy. Ministers urged governments around the world to direct their pressure toward Russia and China.
The Kremlin rejected the anti-Assad call on Friday, with Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying that Clinton’s comments contradicted Annan’s plan, which Washington and Moscow agreed to.
“There is no way of sitting on the side lines on this,” British Foreign Secretary William Hague told the meeting. “If you don’t impose sanctions and implement them thoroughly you are allowing … the Assad regime the means to go on killing the Syrian people and we see the tragic results every day.”
He urged nations to immediately stop buying Syrian oil and end cooperation with companies tied to its oil industry.
Fabius, France’s foreign minister, maintained that events were bearing down on Assad. Besides the defection, he noted a resolution voted Friday by the United Nations’ top human rights body condemning the violence in Syria and demanding authorities cooperate with a U.N. investigation into “widespread, systematic and gross violations of human rights.”
Approved by a 41-3 vote in the 47-nation Human Rights Council, the resolution also calls on Assad’s regime to release all political prisoners and allow independent monitors to visit detention facilities.
At the Paris conference, Hashimi and other members of the Syrian opposition pressed for a no-fly zone, similar to that imposed on Libya last year, to prevent Assad’s forces from “flying over defected soldiers and civilians and bombarding them.”
There was no letup in violence Friday. At least 25 people were killed by Syrian forces who torched more than 100 homes while seizing the northern city of Khan Sheikhoun from rebels.
Catherine Gaschka in Paris, Robert H. Reid in Berlin and Ben Hubbard in Beirut contributed to this report.