There is no guarantee that a sweeping new international agreement on Syria will succeed in ending the conflict there, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton conceded, as opposition activists said the number of dead had skyrocketed in recent months.
"There is no guarantee that we are going to be successful. I just hate to say that," Clinton told CNN Foreign Affairs Correspondent Jill Dougherty.
But she expressed optimism that a new agreement hammered out Saturday would help ease President Bashar al-Assad out of power.
The first plan backed by Russia and China as well as the West, it calls for a transitional government as a step towards ending the 16-month uprising.
Opposition activists immediately criticized the deal as leaving open the possibility that al-Assad would remain in power.
"The new agreement provides vague language which is open to interpretation," the opposition Local Coordination Committees of Syria said in a statement Sunday. "This provides yet another opportunity for the regime's thugs to play their favorite game in utilizing time in order to stop the popular Syrian Revolution and extinguish it with violence and massacres across Syria."
A spokesman for the Syrian National Council, a main political opposition group, similarly slammed the agreement.
"We are afraid that the decision of the Geneva convention might give signs and gestures to the Syrian regime that it is acceptable and a legitimate cover to continue killing the people, and committing more massacres," Muhammad Farmini told CNN.
"This gives the regime a permit to continue killing and spilling more Syrian blood," he said.
But Clinton said al-Assad and his inner circle would be excluded from any transitional government.
Both sides have to agree on the membership of the interim body, and Clinton said there was "no way anyone in the opposition would ever consent to Assad or his inside regime cronies with blood on their hands being on any transitional governing body."
"Assad will not be part of it," she said in an interview late Saturday in Geneva, Switzerland, after the deal was hammered out.
Kofi Annan, the joint special envoy for the United Nations and Arab League, invited diplomats from the U.N. Security Council and envoys from Turkey, the United Nations, the European Union and the Arab League to the global meeting in Geneva on Saturday.
Clinton said the Russians, who have long been al-Assad's most steadfast supporters, had finally decided to back a transition away from his rule.
"They have committed to trying," she said. "But they also admitted that they may or may not have enough leverage to convince not just one man, but a family and a regime that their time is over."