U.S. says Assad must make progress on reforms

WASHINGTON Tue Mar 29, 2011 5:17pm EDT

Related Topics

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States on Tuesday urged Syria to make more progress on political reforms but U.S. lawmakers did not appear keen to intervene militarily in another Middle Eastern country.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad should meet the needs and aspirations of his citizens, the U.S. State Department's spokesman Mark Toner said. More than 60 people have been killed during protests for greater freedoms that erupted in Syria nearly two weeks ago.

"We believe President Assad is at a crossroads. He has claimed to be a reformer for over a decade but he has made no substantive progress on political reforms and we urge him to ... address the needs and the aspirations of the Syrian people," Toner told reporters.

"He has claimed the mantle of reform and he has implemented some economic reforms but on the political side he needs to make more progress frankly -- substantive progress," he said.

Assad, who has ruled Syria since the death of his father, Hafez al-Assad, in 2000, accepted his government's resignation on Tuesday after nearly two weeks of pro-democracy unrest that has posed the gravest challenge to his rule.

The move was unlikely to satisfy protesters since the cabinet has little authority in Syria, where power is concentrated in the hands of Assad, his family and the security apparatus.

On Capitol Hill, several senators said Syria was a different case from Libya, where the United States is taking part in a coalition conducting air strikes against leader Muammar Gaddafi's forces. They echoed comments made earlier this week by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who appeared to rule out U.S. military intervention in Syria.

The Senate's Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, said he had not heard anyone call for U.S. military intervention in Syria.

"I mean, we obviously feel badly for the Syrian people that they've been subjected to this kind of regime for all of these years, 40 or 50 years ... but I don't think we have a single policy that fits neatly every single country" in the Middle East, McConnell told reporters.

Senator John Kerry, a Democrat, and Republican Senator John McCain, who both pushed for the U.S. military action in Libya, said they did not think Washington should intervene militarily in Syria -- at least not now.

"I don't think it has reached anything close to that stage at this point," Kerry said outside the Senate.

"The government needs to make sure they are not killing their citizens, and they need to announce whatever their reform program is going to be. We'll see what happens," Kerry said.

"We should be certainly giving them (the protesters) moral support. Their desires are very legitimate," McCain told Reuters.

The situation in Syria was "vastly different" from Libya, McCain said. "The big difference is that Benghazi was about to subject of another Srebrenica and everybody knows that," he added, referring to the slaughter of more than 8,000 Muslim men and boys in 1995, Europe's worst atrocity since World War Two.

(additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Sandra Maler and Deborah Charles)

FILED UNDER: