By Elise Labott
Hillary Clinton painted a chilling picture for the 20 or so foreign ministers from the Friends of Syria group meeting Friday on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly.
"We see more bodies filling hospitals and morgues, and more refugees leaving their homeland and flooding into neighboring countries," Clinton said in her address. "The regime of Bashar al-Assad must come to an end so that the suffering of the Syrian people can stop and a new dawn can begin."
Yet ideas on how to bring about that new dawn are in short supply, as the international community remains unwilling to act. Proposals by Qatar to establish an Arab force to stop the bloodshed, and calls by France and Turkey to create a no-fly zone to protest "liberated" areas have met lukewarm resistance by the U.S. and other nations without a U.N. Security Council resolution.
The meeting discussed efforts to create an all-inclusive transitional government and increase aid to address a growing humanitarian crisis. Clinton pledged $30 million to help Syrians affected by the violence - both those inside the country and the tens of thousands of refugees pouring into neighboring Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.
Clinton also announced $15 million in additional non-lethal aid for communications gear and training. The funding for activists, students and journalists will be used to help the opposition communicate and prepare for political transition. But it will also help train civil servants to deliver essential municipal services in areas that have been abandoned by the regime. That could mean, officials say, anything from ensuring electricity flows to homes, to rebuilding schools to baking bread.
More than eighteen months into the conflict, which activists say has killed around 30,000 people, diplomats say the lack of unity among the opposition regarding a vision for a post-Assad Syria remains one of the greatest challenges. One of the main goals at Friday's meeting was to discuss ways to strengthen coordination among Syria's fractured opposition groups. Members of local groups from across Syria and exiles with the Syrian National Council attended the session.
But complaints about Syria's splintered opposition have been matched by frustration over the international community's own paralysis.
Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N.-Arab League representative for Syria, warned the Security Council that the situation in Syria continues to worsen. Five weeks into the job, he acknowledged he had a few ideas but no new plan to stop the bloodshed.
Brahiami's predecessor, Kofi Annan, resigned in frustration after Russia and China vetoed three Western-backed resolutions aimed at pressuring Assad to end the violence and begin negotiations over a political transition. A framework transition plan agreed to in Geneva by the permanent members of the Security Council remains on the table, but can not be implemented before an agreement is struck with Russia over how it's implemented.
"It is no secret that our attempts to move forward at the U.N. Security Council have been blocked repeatedly, but the United States is not waiting," Clinton said. She issued a stern warning to Hezbollah, and its backer, Iran, to stop supporting and arming the Syrian regime.
"There is no longer any doubt that Tehran will do whatever it takes to protect its proxy and crony in Damascus," she said.
Arab League Secretary General Nabil ElAraby told the meeting that it is time for a political transition in Syria because the situation is becoming "more explosive."
"The Syrian people are looking for us here," he said. If those at the meeting truly are the friends of the Syrian people, they must "take concrete and practical steps to end this tragic and indeed dangerous crisis, to save the lives of innocent people and to save Syria and the whole region from the scourge of a more expanded civil war and more tragedies of massive proportions."