Clinton: 'Everyone' Is Worried About Syria

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is back in Washington after a long day of negotiating over Syria Saturday. The watered-down agreement was quickly dismissed by the Syrian rebels. NPR's Michele Kelemen spoke with Clinton before she boarded her flight home.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene. The United States reached an agreement with Russia and other world powers yesterday to try to create a transitional government in Syria after months of bloodshed. But Russia, a close ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, opposed U.S. insistence that the Syrian leader should go. The deal was quickly dismissed by the Syrian rebels. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton came back from Geneva last night but before she got on her plane, she sat down with NPR's Michele Kelemen.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: You spent a lot of time talking to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov when we were in St. Petersburg. Do you get the sense that the Russians are really ready to lean on Bashar al-Assad and do you think the Russians have influence with him?

SECRETARY HILLARY CLINTON: I think the answer to the first question is, yes, I believe they are ready to lean. They have told me that. They have made clear they have no continuing strategic interest in Assad remaining in power. They will make the case that there needs to be this transition. You know, Michele, there are so many terrible things about the violence, the loss of life, the destruction. But I think it became very clear that everyone, including Russia and China, is worried about it spreading.

KELEMEN: And the fact that Turkey was there - they just had this incident with the Turkish plane being down - did that influence that aspect of the conversation?

CLINTON: I think it did, because in my remarks I was able to point to at Iraq sitting there, I was able to point at Turkey sitting there, mention Lebanon, Jordan, Israel; the countries in the region that are already dealing with the repercussions of the violence and instability in Syria. And everyone around that table knew that we could, if we didn't act today and get behind this transition plan, be sitting in six months with a literal war in the region on our hands that was destabilizing country after country if we failed.

KELEMEN: Kofi Annan had very strong words that history is a somber judge. It will judge us harshly if we prove incapable of taking the right path. None of his plan has worked so far, so what makes you think this is different?

CLINTON: You know, I want to be caught trying. I can't, sitting here today, tell you whether Assad is ready to stop killing his own people. Usually, you don't get to a peace table, negotiate transition until something happens. And those with the guns on whatever side they are finally decide that there's got to be a better way. I mean, we negotiated for a year in Yemen. We had former President Ali Abdullah Saleh up to the signing desk three or four time and he would back off every time. So, there's nobody anywhere that is more aware of all of the problems we have going forward. But I am 100 percent convinced that we have to begin changing the reality in the minds and on the ground. And having Russia and China sign up to this lengthy list of guidelines and principles will, I believe, give us the opening to do just that.

KELEMEN: Thank you so much for your time today.

CLINTON: Thank you, Michele.

GREENE: That's Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaking with NPR's Michele Kelemen about the situation in Syria.

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