U.S. warns of Syria action, seeks transition plan

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is warning Syria that U.N. sanctions may be near, as Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton heads Wednesday to Turkey to talk strategy with America’s allies and look for a way to win Russia’s support for a transition plan ending the Assad regime.

Russia and China, however, who have blocked such sanctions before, issued a joint statement reiterating their opposition to any imposing of “regime change” in the violence-wracked country, where some 13,000 people have died in more than a year of uprisings against President Bashar Assad’s leadership and a brutal government crackdown on the opposition.

The warning was delivered by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, who called for the world to exert “maximum financial pressure” on Assad’s government. He argued that “strong sanctions can help hasten the day the Assad regime relinquishes power,” but acknowledged that financial and diplomatic penalties alone cannot bring the needed political change.

In remarks Geithner planned to deliver to a Friends of Syria group, he said that unless Syria demonstrates “meaningful compliance” with U.N. efforts to end the violence, the U.S. and other countries will “soon join in taking appropriate actions against the Syrian regime, including, if necessary, Chapter 7 action in the U.N. Security Council.” A Chapter 7 resolution authorizes actions that can ultimately include the use of military force, which administration officials — for now — are playing down as a possibility.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Hu Jintao wrapped up a summit and issued a statement essentially saying “no dice” to U.N. sanctions.

China and Russia strongly oppose any attempt to address the Syria crisis with military interference from the outside or forcefully impose a regime change in the insurgency-ridden country,” the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

Treasury officials said the U.S. goal in seeking U.N. action is global sanctions and not a military intervention in Syria.

“It’s time for all of us to turn our attention to an orderly transition of power in Syria that would pave the way for democratic, tolerant, pluralistic future,” Clinton told reporters before leaving Azerbaijan for Turkey.

The White House would not detail possible new action against Syria at the United Nations or elsewhere.

“All options with regard to Syria are being discussed,” press secretary Jay Carney told reporters traveling with Obama for political fundraising on the West Coast.

“We are constantly looking for ways to work with our international partners to further isolate and pressure Assad to get him to cease the brutal campaign against the Syrian people and to allow for the political transition that’s already under way to be completed,” he said.

Despite widespread international condemnation of its actions, Syria’s government has survived through a combination of brutal repression and the political backing of Moscow. Along with China, Russia has twice blocked U.N. condemnations and punitive actions against the regime.

Looking for a way forward, Clinton is meeting Wednesday evening in Istanbul with like-minded European, Turkish and Arab officials hoping to advance a political transition strategy. The latest talk has focused on a plan such as the one agreed to last year by Yemen’s former dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh, whose resignation allowed his vice president to form a caretaker interim government.

But Assad has balked at such proposals, and the U.S. and its allies have yet to persuade the Kremlin to drop its support for the Syrian leader.

In recent days, Clinton has sought to open the door to a compromise with Russia, calling Assad’s ouster a necessary outcome of any political transition but not necessarily a “precondition.”

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