U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will journey to Turkey next month to attend a forum focused on ending the year-long conflict in Syria that has already claimed more than 8,000 lives, according to U.S. officials.
The so-called Friends of Syria talks to be held in Istanbul on April 1 follow a similar meeting last month in Tunis which attracted about 60 countries.
Victoria Nuland, a spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department, told reporters that the Turkish meeting will also seek to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid to the most devastated parts of Syria and to begin a political process to ultimately remove President Bashar al-Assad from power.
We look forward to the agenda that the Turkish government will establish to deepen and broaden the consensus about the way forward, and we expect that the UN will also be represented in those meetings, Nuland said.
On Wednesday, Russia and China (two erstwhile allies of Assad) endorsed a UN peace plan for Syria that was proposed by Kofi Annan, the former U.N. chief who is now a special envoy to the Middle East.
While Annan’s six-point plan apparently does not explicitly demand that Assad step down (a measure the Arab League has stipulated), the UN Security Council warned that the Damascus regime should immediately cease troop movements towards, and end the use of heavy weapons in, population centers, and begin pullback of military concentrations in and around population centers.
Clinton said of the UN resolution: The [UN] has now spoken with one voice… [It is] the beginning of a Syrian-led political process to address the legitimate aspirations of all the Syrian people that will lead to a democratic transition.
Meanwhile,Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has urged the international community to stop the ongoing human tragedy in Syria.
Turkey, a longtime Assad ally, severed relations with Syria last November and has accepted almost 20,000 Syrian refugees fleeing the violence.