May 5, 2011 11:58 am

Clinton warns Syria over crackdown

Hillary Clinton, US secretary of state, has warned the Syrian government that it would face the “consequences” of its crackdown on protests and welcomed moves by the European Union to join Washington in imposing sanctions.

“We have to show the Syrian government there are consequences for this brutal crackdown imposed on the Syrian people,” Mrs Clinton told a news conference in Rome on Thursday.

Speaking of the “alarming” situation in Syria, she noted that the US had already announced “targeted sanctions” against individuals and entities, and welcomed the EU’s intention to impose its own measures.

Last week, Washington imposed sanctions against Syria’s intelligence agency and two relatives of president Bashir al-Assad. A senior US official said then that the Syrian president could also be named if the violence continued. Mrs Clinton gave no new details on Thursday.

Franco Frattini, Italy’s foreign minister, said he had discussed sanctions with Mrs Clinton. He reiterated that the EU would suspend its framework association agreement with Syria and impose travel restrictions on individuals he said were “directly” implicated in the violence.

Mr Frattini did not say if the Syrian president would fall into that category. Diplomats in Rome said there was serious disagreement among EU member states over whether to include Mr Assad on the blacklist, with Germany opposed and the UK and France calling for a “tough” line. The EU hopes to reach an agreement by May 23.

Syrian human rights groups say more than 500 civilians have been killed since anti-government protests erupted in mid-March. The US and EU have been criticised for their hesitant response.

Mrs Clinton was in Rome for a meeting of some 20 foreign ministers of the Libya Contact Group which was expected to focus on financial and other aid for the rebels, and how to step up pressure on Muammer Gaddafi’s regime.

Asked how much money the rebels might expect, Mrs Clinton replied: “Everyone is always impatient” and declined to put a figure on the “financial mechanism” that was up for discussion. Senior diplomats said earlier that a fund for the rebels would not include regime assets that had been frozen in the US and EU.

Mr Frattini, in his opening remarks to the meeting, said the UN sanctions committee for Libya should give priority to discussing the possibility of unfreezing Libyan assets for humanitarian purposes.

As William Hague, the UK’s foreign secretary, attended the meeting Britain expelled two more Libyan diplomats from London, days after it ordered the country’s ambassador to leave.

“I ordered the expulsion of the two diplomats on the basis that their activities were contrary to the interests of the UK,” Mr Hague said.

Mahmud Jibril, leader of the rebels’ Transitional National Council, is also attending the Rome talks that are co-chaired by Sheikh Hamad al-Thani, Qatar’s prime minister.

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