Clinton Calls For Tougher U.N. Steps Against Syria

The international sense of urgency over the Syrian crisis grew on Thursday, with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton calling for an arms embargo and other tough U.N. Security Council steps against the Bashar al-Assad regime.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks at a news conference at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels April 18, 2012. NATO foreign and defence ministers will refine plans for withdrawing combat troops from Afghanistan this week in a meeting that comes after an insurgent attack in the heart of Kabul and recrimination from the alliance's Afghan allies.

The international sense of urgency over the Syrian crisis grew on Thursday, with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton calling for an arms embargo and other tough U.N. Security Council steps against the Bashar al-Assad regime.

Clinton suggested moving "very vigorously" toward a Chapter VII sanctions resolution, including travel and financial sanctions as well as the arms embargo -- pressure that would coax the regime to comply with U.N. and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan's six-point peace plan. A Chapter VII resolution would provide for the use of force if needed.

Clinton, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe and other top diplomats were huddling Thursday in Paris as they weighed their next moves if a week-old cease-fire falls through in Syria.

"I think we are all here out of a sense of great frustration and outrage over what we see occurring in Syria," Clinton said. "We also are hopeful that despite the evidence thus far, the mission of Kofi Annan can begin to take root, starting with monitors being sent, but remembering that it's a six-point plan and that it is not a menu of options. It has to be a complete acceptance by the Syrian government of all six points."

The French meeting comes as U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that violence has persisted and Syrian troops haven't fully complied with the government's pledge to withdraw troops from cities and halt violence, key elements in Annan's peace plan.

An advance team of U.N. observers is in Syria to observe a weeklong truce there, with 30 unarmed monitors expected in the coming days. Ban called for an initial three-month observer mission to be expanded to 300 monitors in 10 locations and is asking the U.N. Security Council to authorize the expanded number.

Juppe said the failure of Annan's peace plan for Syria "would lead to civil war,"

"We cannot wait," Juppe told reporters. "Time is against us. We need to act quickly. Otherwise we'll have to see what other options are available to the Security Council and to the international community."

The Annan initiative "is a plan for freedom. Its failure would lead to civil war and regional confrontations."

Speaking in a radio interview ahead of the meeting, French President Nicolas Sarkozy repeated calls to establish humanitarian corridors in Syria to get food and medicine to civilians trapped in the fighting, which he said can also help strengthen the opposition.

"We want to strengthen the Arab countries, as you said, around Syria who want to act," he said.

Russia and China, which have blocked the Security Council from taking action against the Syrian government, declined an invitation to the meeting, the French foreign ministry said.

In a meeting that could take on local political overtones in France, which will hold elections in days, Sarkozy urged nations to persuade Moscow and Beijing to drop their support for Syria's regime.

Ban said it appeared violence "dropped markedly" after the truce began April 12, but hostilities -- including the government shelling of civilian areas and actions by armed groups -- jumped again in recent days.

At least 25 people died Thursday in Syria, the opposition Local Coordination Committees of Syria said, and dozens more have been killed in the past few days.

Ban said in a letter to U.N. Security Council President Susan Rice, also the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, that al-Assad's government and the opposition "have continued to express their commitment to a cessation of armed violence in all its forms."

But "the cessation of armed violence in all its forms is therefore clearly incomplete," he said. "The Syrian government has yet to fully implement its initial obligations regarding the actions and deployments of its troops and heavy weapons, or to return them to barracks."

In his letter, Ban said other action by Syria on the six-point plan "does not amount yet to the clear signal expected from the Syrian authorities."

The plan says demonstrators must have the right to protest peacefully. Despite a restrained regime response during last Friday's demonstrations, "there were nevertheless attempts to intimidate protesters, including reports of incidents of rifle fire by government troops."

The plan also calls for intensifying "the pace and scale of release of arbitrarily detained persons." But Ban there has been "no significant release of detainees."

The secretary-general said there also has been "no substantive progress" on the timely provision of humanitarian assistance and no increase in "the capacity of organizations on the ground" -- another stipulation of the accord. The United Nations says 230,000 people have been displaced by the violence.

Speaking to reporters Thursday at the United Nations, Ban called the lack of "meaningful progress" on the ground "unacceptable."

The United Nations and Syria Thursday reached an agreement on a protocol for the advance monitoring team and other observers that outlines the functions of the observers and the tasks and responsibilities of the Syrian government, he said.

Ban said a 300-member team "would help advance a cessation of armed violence" and set the stage for implementing the peace plan. He said the team needs "unfettered access" and "freedom of support." He said Syrian authorities said they would provide full support for air assets.

Rice, speaking to reporters at the United Nations, said the advance mission is an "important test" of whether Syria will permit the effective operation of a monitoring system.

She noted that the Security Council, in its Syria resolution on Saturday, expressed its intention to establish a supervision mission to monitor a cease-fire and called on the Syrian government to make sure its work is "unimpeded."

But so far, she said, violence has continued and monitor movement has been restricted. For example, Ban noted that the government turned down the team's initial request to go to the besieged city of Homs because of "security concerns."

Rice emphasized the advance team must be permitted to go to Homs and called on the government to stop shelling the city. "The onus remains on the Syrian government," she said.

Observers had been in the Daraa province town of Harak on Thursday. Regime gunfire killed two people and wounded dozens after the monitors left the area, the LCC said.

CNN cannot independently verify reports of violence and deaths as the government has severely restricted access by international media.

Syria has been engulfed in violence for 13 months as a national uprising spread, while the government cracked down on peaceful protests. The United Nations estimates that at least 9,000 people have died since the protests began, while activist groups put the death toll at more than 11,000.

Al-Assad's regime has blamed terrorists for the violence, but activists have cited daily killings by government forces.