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U.S. Warns Of UN Sanctions Against Syria

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U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner (file photo)

U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner (file photo)

The United States has warned Syria that tough economic sanctions may soon be imposed on Damascus as punishment for its violent campaign against citizens calling for regime change.

At a meeting in Washington of the Friends of the Syrian People on June 6, U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner called on world governments to exert "maximum financial pressure" on President Bashar al-Assad's government to force him to relinquish power.

Geithner also gave U.S. backing to a proposal that the United Nations pass tough Chapter 7 sanctions against the country.

"We, the United States, hope that all responsible nations will soon join in taking appropriate economic actions against the Syrian regime including, if necessary, Chapter 7 action in the UN Security Council as called on by the Arab League last weekend," Geithner said.

He spoke as U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Turkey for talks on Syria strategy and discussion on how to win Russia's support for easing Assad out of power.

Russia, China Reject Intervention

But in Beijing, following bilateral talks between China and Russia, the two governments reiterated their strong opposition to any intervention in Syrian domestic affairs.

A joint statement released on June 6 after Russian President Vladimir Putin met with Chinese leaders said, "Russia and China are decisively against attempts to regulate the Syrian crisis with outside military intervention, as well as imposing...a policy of regime change."

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the two countries still supported the peace plan drawn up by UN special envoy Kofi Annan, which both sides have largely ignored.

But he warned that calls from the Syrian opposition for outside military invention and forced regime change could "bring the region to catastrophe."

West: Assad Must Go

More than 55 countries attended the meeting of the Friends of the Syrian People, the first since last month's massacre in Houla, where pro-government militias are suspected of killing more than 100 civilians, including scores of children.

Geithner said the meeting was taking place "in the shadow of a massacre." He said that while nothing could adequately respond to the shocking event, "sanctions can play an important role" and "hasten the day the Assad regime relinquishes power."

In Rome, Italian Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi said Assad's policies risked creating genocide in the conflict-torn country unless there is swift action to stop him.

And in Paris, French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said Assad "remains stubbornly deaf to the demands of his people."

Meanwhile, opposition groups said 42 civilians were killed in fresh shelling and clashes.

The UN estimates that at least 9,000 people have been killed since an uprising against the authoritarian regime began 15 months ago.

With reporting by AP, CNN, Reuters, and dpa

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