Under pressure from critics who say the Obama administration is moving too slowly to respond the Syrian government’s violent crackdown on democracy demonstrators the Obama administration said Friday said the U.S. is collecting information on possible war crimes by Syrian security forces.
In a telephone briefing with reporters, a senior administration official said the U.S. is “looking into…whether there are grounds here for charges related to war crimes” and whether referrals to the International Criminal Court are appropriate.
The officials said also that the U.S. is considering further economic pressure on the Syrian government, in particular, sanctions on the oil and gas sector in Syria.
The Obama administration also is lobbying reluctant members of the United Nations Security Council to support a resolution on Syria that, as another administration official put it, “would send a strong message to President Assad.”
“One wants to be able to make sure you have all of the five permanent members of the Security Council on board for a resolution,” the official said, “and you want to make sure that you have at least the largest number of yes votes that you can. And so there’s just ongoing consultations in New York to make sure that we can have the broadest-based support of the Security Council.”
Friday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke by phone with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov but State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland gave no details, adding only “it was a good conversation.”
Clinton, so far, has not spoken with Beijing which, like Russia, is believed to be reluctant to support any U.N. resolution.
Critics charge the administration is pulling its punches on Syria, in contrast to its quick action at the U.N. Security Council to pass a resolution authorizing use of force to protect the citizens of Libya from attacks by forces loyal to Muammar Gadhafi.
In the telephone briefing one administration official conceded: “I agree that in a perfect world we should be moving faster, that this is going slowly.” But, the official said, “what we’re doing is, again, we’re actively building a broad-based approach with our partners bilaterally, multilaterally, regionally, internationally in order to make sure that we’re all moving ahead in a sensible way that backs the Syrian people themselves.”
The official added: “the people in the driver’s seat right now are the Syrians themselves.”
“The Syrian people themselves are the ones that are driving the agenda,” the official said, “that are making the demands, that are expressing their views, that are reacting to the repression, and the international community is simply trying to support the Syrian people achieve their demands in terms of universal rights, in terms of a beginning of a transition away from a closed, one-party structure.”
U.S. officials claim the situation in Syria differs greatly from the situation in Libya. “There hasn’t been a galvanizing effect, such as Qadhafi’s threat…to basically raze Benghazi to the ground,” the official told reporters. “But there, nevertheless, is an appalling, appalling amount of violence and death that you see us, the international community, responding to and …we’re working with our partners to make sure that the response is as effective as possible.”
The Syrian government, this official added, “seems to be trying to reach out” to some members of the opposition. The opposition, however, still fears arrest and others are in hiding.
“You cannot do sort of dialogue negotiation,” the official added, “while you try to reach out on the one hand but you still are injecting fear – fear of arrest, fear of violence – on the other hand.”