Clinton raises pressure on Russia to help resolve Syrian conflict

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Sunday increased pressure on Russia to join international efforts to force Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from power.

Clinton, in Sweden as part of weeklong visit to Europe, said she had spoken with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and called on Moscow to push its Syrian ally to commit to a peaceful transition of power.

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“My message to the foreign minister was very simple and straightforward," said Clinton, in remarks reported by The Associated Press. "We all have to intensify our efforts to achieve a political transition, and Russia has to be at the table helping that to occur."

Clinton said "the Syrian people want and deserve change and that should, insofar as possible, come about through peaceful means."

Russia, which has close ties with Assad's embattled regime, has blocked United Nations efforts to increase pressure on Damascus and force the Syrian strongman from power. Moscow has vetoed two U.N. Security Council resolutions that would have placed sanctions on Syria’s government.

A massacre last month of 90 civilians, including at least 32 children, in the central town of Houla has reinvigorated Western efforts to seek an end to the violent yearlong conflict between Assad and opposition forces.

In her comments Sunday, Clinton suggested that Russian officials were open to a proposal that would call on Assad to step down but allow elements of his regime to remain in Damascus.

A similar arrangement earlier this year saw Yemeni leader Ali Abdullah Saleh finally relinquish power. 

"He himself has referred to the Yemen example," said Clinton of her Russian counterpart Lavrov. "It took a lot of time and effort with a number of countries who were involved at the table working to achieve a political transition and we would like to see the same occur in Syria," she added.

President Obama floated a similar plan last month, discussing the proposal with Russian Prime Minister Dimitry Medvedev during the G-8 meetings at Camp David.

Clinton said she would meet with Turkish leaders later this week to discuss further efforts to bring about a peaceful resolution to the Syrian conflict.

"We could see a full-fledged civil war with consequences that would bring in the rest of the region in ways that could be quite dangerous and are certainly unpredictable," Clinton said, according to reports.

Lawmakers led by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) have called on the White House to provide military aid to the Syrian opposition. 

Obama press secretary Jay Carney rebuffed those calls last week, saying that arming insurgents would only lead to "chaos and carnage." Carney said the administration believed sending weapons to Syria was "not the right course."

Presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney has used the crisis to hammer the Obama administration's foreign policy. Last week, after the massacre in Houla, he said that Obama's "lack of leadership has resulted in a policy of paralysis that has watched Assad slaughter 10,000 individuals."

Romney has joined calls for arming anti-Assad forces.

The United States and a number of other countries expelled Syrian diplomats last week in a coordinated move intended to punish Assad's regime for the massacre and further isolate it.

Assad, however, has denied responsibility for the killings in Houla. In his first public address in months Sunday, he blamed "foreign meddling" for Syria's violence.