US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged Russia Sunday to get behind a political transition in Syria, saying President Bashar al-Assad's departure was not a precondition but should be "an outcome".
Clinton spoke to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov by telephone at the weekend to say that Washington and Moscow needed to work together on a plan that would halt the violence and bring about political change in the country.
"In my conversation with him, I made it very clear there would be no point to any meeting unless it included all elements of Kofi Annan's (peace) plan, and that certainly means we have to focus on a path forward for a political transition," Clinton told reporters Sunday during a visit to Stockholm.
"Assad's departure does not have to be a precondition but it should be an outcome, so the people of Syria have a chance to express themselves," she said.
No meeting between Clinton and Lavrov has been scheduled, but a senior US State Department official said Clinton had said the two sides should begin working on ideas.
Warnings of an all-out civil war in Syria, and spill-over sectarian violence in Lebanon, have grown since the massacre last week of more than 100 civilians, many of them women and children, in the city of Houla.
The United States and other countries have blamed the attacks on militias backed by the regime, but Assad said Sunday in a speech it was part of a foreign plot to destroy the country.
Russia has resisted UN Security Council efforts to sanction the Assad regime, a longtime ally of Moscow, questioning the effectiveness of sanctions and warning that outside meddling could lead to civil war.
Clinton has sharply criticised Moscow for "propping up" the Assad regime with continued arms shipments, prompting President Vladimir Putin to defend Russia's stance in meetings with the leaders of Germany and France.
The US chief diplomat, meanwhile, has been lining up support for a tougher response during a tour of the Scandinavian countries.
Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt joined her at a news conference here in condemning "the terrible violence by the Assad regime against its own people," and calling for international pressure for those responsible to be held to account.
Clinton said she also would be meeting with leaders from countries in the region in Istanbul Wednesday, where she was to attend an international conference on counter-terrorism.
She said her message to Lavrov was: "We all have to intensify our efforts to achieve a political transition, and Russia has to be at the table helping that occur. The Syrian people want and deserve change."