US to call for peacekeepers in Syria

The United States is joining 70 other countries in calling for the United Nations to prepare a peacekeeping force to send to Syria once President Bashar al-Assad agrees to a cease-fire.

The Associated Press reported that the Friends of Syria group, meeting in Tunisia on Friday, would demand that Assad agree to a cease-fire and allow humanitarian aid to enter the hardest-hit areas of Syria, or face unspecified consequences.

The measure is designed to increase pressure so Assad sees his end as inevitable and agrees to give up power, according to diplomats in Tunisia, the AP reported.

The United States has said that Assad cannot stay in power, as his regime has bombarded opposition forces. Violence has risen sharply in recent days.

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Russia and China, the two countries that vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution earlier this month to pressure Assad to leave, were not involved in the Friends of Syria meeting.

The U.N. peacekeeping force, which would enter Syria after a cease-fire occurred, would be a non-military mission.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said at a press conference in London on Thursday that officials at the Friday meeting would hear from the Syrian opposition about their vision for a post-Assad Syria.

As calls for intervention have increased, the White House has maintained it is opposed at this time to supplying arms to the Syrian opposition or getting involved militarily. “We continue to believe that a political resolution is the best approach,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said Thursday.

Clinton said in London that the opposition forces will be increasingly capable. “They will, from somewhere, somehow, find the means to defend themselves as well as begin offensive measures,” she said.

Several senators have pressured the Obama administration to take a more active role in Syria, including arming the opposition. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said he did not want U.S. "boots on the ground," but has argued for stronger efforts to get weapons to the Syrian opposition. 

He's also called for a Senate hearing on Syria, which an aide to Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said is in the works.  

Before Friday’s conference began, about 200 pro-Syrian protesters carrying signs criticizing Clinton and Obama tried to storm the hotel in Tunisia, delaying Clinton’s arrival, the AP reported.