Clinton in Saudi push to end crackdown in Syria
RIYADH - US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was holding talks in Riyadh Friday with Saudi leaders as she kicked off a two-country tour aimed at raising pressure on the Syrian regime, the US embassy here said.
"Mrs Clinton has arrived in Riyadh for talks with senior Saudi officials," an embassy spokesman said.
The US State Department said earlier this week Clinton would meet Friday in Riyadh with Saudi King Abdullah and Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal.
On Saturday, she is due to meet with ministers of Saudi Arabia's five Gulf Arab neighbours -- Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Oman -- before engaging in broader meetings Sunday with Arab, Turkish and Western officials in Istanbul.
The Friends of Syria meeting in Turkey follows the inaugural one Clinton attended in Tunis at the end of February -- a response to Western and Arab failure to win Russian and Chinese backing at the UN Security Council.
Aides said Clinton will discuss how to make President Bashar al-Assad comply with a new plan to end the crackdown on a pro-democracy movement, study further sanctions against his regime and consider ways to aid the opposition who will be in Istanbul.
Her visit comes a day after Assad said he would "spare no effort" for the success of UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan's six-point peace plan but said the proposal would only work if "terrorist acts" by foreign powers stopped.
State Department spokesman Mark Toner described the president's remarks as "discouraging" and urged Assad to halt the violence immediately.
"It's not surprising, but it's discouraging and disappointing," Toner told reporters in Washington, adding that Syrian government forces had done nothing to comply with Annan's plan in the three days since agreeing to it.
The plan by the former UN chief includes a commitment to stop all violence, daily two-hour humanitarian ceasefires and media access to all areas affected by the fighting.
It also calls for an inclusive Syrian-led political process, the right to demonstrate, and the release of people detained arbitrarily.
"We've seen absolutely nothing on the ground that indicates that they're adhering to its calls for Syrian artillery and heavy weaponry to go back to barracks and for a ceasefire to allow humanitarian assistance to be put in place," Toner said.
"We've been very clear that we want to see a ceasefire in place. We want to see an end to the violence as soon as possible so that we can get humanitarian assistance in to the beleaguered Syrian people."
US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said on Wednesday the US delegation would discuss ways to deliver humanitarian aid to the Syrian people -- during a crackdown UN officials now estimate has cost more than 9,000 lives in a year -- and how to promote opposition unity.
Clinton said Tuesday the United States will press the disparate opposition "very hard" to present a "unified vision" in Istanbul that protects the rights of all Syrians.
Washington wants the opposition to fully represent Sunnis, Christians, Kurds, Druze, Turkmen and others, including Alawites, the minority Muslim sect from which Assad hails.
Saudi Arabia and its neighbour Qatar have called for arming the opposition, which includes the Free Syrian Army, made up of Syrian military defectors.
An Arab league summit in Baghdad on Thursday rejected the option of arming any sides, and called on all parties to engage in a "serious national dialogue."