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Clinton held talks with seven opponents of Assad (AFP/Pool, J. Scott Applewhite)

The United States and France sent their ambassadors back to Syria to champion protesters, demanding that the regime protect the envoys who had been pulled out due to safety fears.

US Ambassador Robert Ford and French Ambassador Eric Chevallier had faced harassment and threats as they shone a light on President Bashar al-Assad’s nine-month crackdown, in which more than 4,000 people are said to have died.

“We believe his presence in the country is among the most effective ways to send the message that the United States stands with the people of Syria,” US State Department spokesman Mark Toner said as the two envoys flew back in.

Ford will seek to provide “reliable reporting on the situation on the ground” and engage “with the full spectrum of Syrian society on how to end the bloodshed and achieve a peaceful political transition,” Toner said.

White House spokesman Jay Carney demanded that Syria uphold international obligations to protect foreign diplomats and allow US officers “to conduct their work free of intimidation or obstacles.”

In Paris, deputy foreign ministry spokesman Romain Nadal said that the concerns that led to Chevallier’s recall have not gone away but that “his work on the ground in Syria is important.”

“France is more than ever at the side of the Syrian people,” Nadal told AFP.

The US and French ambassadors had both traveled in Syria to document protests and show their support, amid official attempts to prevent international media and observers from witnessing the crackdown firsthand.

The United States announced on October 24 that Ford had been brought back to Washington because of “credible threats.” Assad supporters had pelted Ford and the embassy staff with tomatoes and damaged US vehicles as they visited an opposition leader in Damascus.

The French ambassador was recalled on November 16 after mobs loyal to Assad attacked France’s honorary consulate in the northern city of Latakia and the detached chancery in Aleppo.

Toner said the United States “felt there was a sense of urgency” in sending Ford back to Damascus but said that Washington would “keep a close eye” on what it viewed as threats to him, including articles in the state-run press.

In further pressure on Syria, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Tuesday held talks in Geneva with seven opponents of Assad. She called for the protection of women and minorities, a key concern for a future without Assad, as he comes from the minority Alawite sect.

read more -AFP

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U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton embraces Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi after their meeting at Suu Kyi's residence in Yangon. (Associated Press, Saul Loeb / December 2, 2011)

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi welcomes U.S. support, but she also underscores the importance of China to her country’s future.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi pledged on Friday to work together to bring democracy in the country.

Wrapping up a historic three-day visit to Myanmar, Ms. Clinton held hands with Ms. Suu Kyi on the porch of the Nobel Peace Prize laureate’s lakeside home where she spent much of the past two decades under house arrest and thanked her for her “steadfast and very clear leadership.” The meeting was the second in as many days for the pair, after a private one-on-one dinner in Yangon on Thursday.

“You have been an inspiration but I know that you feel you are standing for all the people of your country who deserve the same rights and freedoms as people everywhere,” Ms. Clinton told Ms. Suu Kyi. “The people have been courageous and strong in the face of great difficulty over too many years. We want to see this country take its rightful place in the world.”

Ms. Suu Kyi has welcomed Ms. Clinton’s visit and tentatively embraced reforms enacted by Myanmar’s new civilian government. She thanked the secretary and U.S. President Barack Obama for their “careful and calibrated” engagement that has seen the U.S. take some modest steps to improve ties.

“We are happy with the way in which the United States is engaging with us,” she said. “It is through engagement that we hope to promote the process of democratization. Because of this engagement, I think our way ahead will be clearer and we will be able to trust that the process of democratization will go forward.”

As she did in the capital of Naypyidaw on Thursday, Clinton said more significant incentives will be offered but only if the government releases all political prisoners, ends brutal campaigns against ethnic minorities, respects the rule of law and improves human rights conditions.

Ms. Suu Kyi, whose National League for Democracy party won 1990 elections that were ignored by the then-military junta but now plans to run in upcoming parliamentary elections, endorsed that approach and called for the immediate release of all political prisoners and cease-fires to end the ethnic conflicts.

“If we move forward together I am confident there will be no turning back on the road to democracy,” Ms. Suu Kyi said, referring to her party, the government, the United States and other countries. “We are not on that road yet, but we hope to get there as soon as possible with the help and understanding of our friends.”

Ms. Suu Kyi, a heroine for pro-democracy advocates around the world, said Ms. Clinton’s visit, the first by a U.S. secretary of state to Myanmar in more than half a century, represented “a historical moment for both our countries.”


Burmese President Thein Sein, right, and his wife, Khin Khin Win, left, talk with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton between meetings at the President’s Office in Naypyidaw, Burma, on Thursday. Dec 1 2011

The highest-ranking U.S. official to set foot in Burma’s presidential palace, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Thursday brought a message of praise to Burma’s president for his nascent gestures of reform even as she warned him that significantly more progress was needed for change to take root.

The table may be set for “a new chapter in our shared history,” Clinton said at a news conference shortly after the meeting, adding that “while the measures already taken may be unprecedented and welcomed, they are just a beginning.”

For weeks leading up to Clinton’s visit, the Obama administration had emphasized cautious optimism in dealing with authoritarian and reclusive leaders of Burma — a country with a long history of repression and strife that has seen promises of progress dissipate before, and in some case, devolve into brutal and lethal crackdowns.

Seeking to allay such doubts, Burma’s President Thein Sein spent much of their meeting giving a detailed 45-minute presentation to Clinton about further change, according to U.S. officials. His plan for reforming areas of his government long criticized by the U.S. and others included: the gradual release of political prisoners, a cease-fire in the war between Burma’s military and ethnic minorities, political reform, media freedom and adopting international agreements on nuclear programs to allay suspicions about Burma-North Korea weapons trades.

Clinton said she responded by telling him that the United States will ”match action with action” — greater aid, economic rewards and diplomatic prestige in return for bolder reforms.

Thein Sein and others in his government have pushed repeatedly for Washington to lift economic sanctions against Burma — viewed as the ultimate prize for their overtures to the West.

In their meeting Thursday, Clinton offered the Burmese significantly smaller incentives in hopes of nudging them forward without giving up too much too fast. She discussed U.S. support for loosening restrictions on health and microfinancing programs by the United Nations and offered U.S. support for exploring other international aid.

read more at Washingtonpost


U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton shakes hands with Myanmar's President Thein Sein during a meeting at the president's office in Naypyitaw on Dec. 1, 2011. Damir Sagolj/Reuters

Saying she hopes to support “a movement for change,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived Wednesday in Myanmar on a landmark visit that will see her meet leaders of the current military-backed pariah government, as well as opposition icon Aung San Suu Kyi.

Though the trip marks the first visit by a U.S. secretary of state since John Foster Dulles in 1955, the fanfare upon Ms. Clinton’s arrival was minimal. She was greeted at the airport in Naypyidaw by a deputy foreign minister – and two large signs welcoming the capital’s next visitor, the Prime Minister of fellow international outcast Belarus.

A year ago, the United States led a chorus dismissing the first elections in the former Burma since 1990 as a sham aimed to perpetuate military control over the country. The results of the heavily manipulated vote seemed to support that conclusion – a parliament dominated by military officers, and a new “civilian” President who was one of the top figures in the outgoing junta.

But that general-turned-president, Thein Sein, has moulded cynicism into hope with a series of rapid reforms that have stunned the country after five decades of direct military rule. Now, even Ms. Suu Kyi – who was under house arrest while her party boycotted the November, 2010, election – seems to be among the converts. After a private meeting in August with Mr. Thein Sein, she agreed to rejoin the political process and is expected to run as a candidate in parliamentary by-elections scheduled for early next year.


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