WASHINGTON — The United States on Monday stepped up its condemnation of Syria’s crackdown on pro-democracy protests and again called on its president to allow for a political transition or step aside.
“We have called on President Bashar al-Assad to cease the violence. We strongly condemn, in the strongest possible terms, the violence being perpetrated in Syria,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney.
“President Assad needs to engage in political dialogue. A transition needs to take place. If President Assad does not lead that transition then he should step aside,” Carney told reporters aboard Air Force One.
Syrian forces were waging a scorched-earth campaign in the northern mountains as part of a crackdown in and around the town of Jisr al-Shughur that has sent thousands of people fleeing across the Turkish border.
On Monday, refugees said troops were burning crops and slaughtering livestock in villages near the border. Those claims could not be confirmed, as Syria has prevented journalists from entering the area.
“What happened there over the weekend and what continues to occur is absolutely revolting, and we condemn these barbaric acts in the strongest possible terms,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner said.
Toner insisted the United States was exerting pressure on the Syrian government but stopped short of calling on Assad to resign.
“Unless Assad can lead the way to meaningful reform, and it becomes increasingly clear that he either is unable or unwilling to do so, (then) he needs to get out of the way and allow that transition to take place.”
When asked if the United States was considering military action against Syria, Toner responded: “We’re just not there yet.”
Hundreds have been killed in recent weeks as Syria has launched a fierce response to nationwide pro-democracy protests inspired by the uprisings that brought down long-serving leaders in Egypt and Tunisia.
The US has backed Western efforts to pass a UN Security Council resolution condemning the crackdown, but Russia and China have opposed the move and South Africa, Brazil and India have also expressed strong reservations.