Obama - AFP - Feb 3, 2012
U.S. President Barack Obama, February 3, 2012. Photo by AFP
Text size

U.S. President Barack Obama called Friday on the international community to continue sending the message to Syria's president to step down, and that it must use very tool available to “prevent the slaughter of innocents” in Syria.

"It is time for that regime to move on, and it is time to stop the killing of Syrian citizens by their own government," Obama said in the Oval Office with Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt Thorning-Schmidt.

The U.S. president said the international community would "look for every tool available to prevent the slaughter of innocents in Syria."

"All of us seeing the terrible pictures coming out of Syria and Homs recently recognize it is absolutely imperative for the international community to rally in sending a clear message to President Assad that it is time for a transition."

Seated next to Obama, Thorning-Schmidt called the situation in Syria "horrendous."

Earlier, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was in Tunisia to attend the Friends of Syria conference on Friday, warned Assad and his backers inside Syria and abroad that they will be held to account for the crackdown on opponents and what she described as a humanitarian catastrophe in Syria.

Addressing her comments to Russia and China, which vetoed tough action on Syria in the United Nations, she said: "They are setting themselves not only against the Syrian people but also the entire Arab awakening."

"It's quite distressing to see permanent members of the Security Council using their veto when people are being murdered - women, children, brave young men -- houses are being destroyed. It is just despicable."

"I am convinced Assad's days are numbered, but I regret that there will be more killing before he goes," she said.

Beijing and Moscow declined invitations to attend the Tunisia meeting.

In a tacit acknowledgement that the scope for pressuring Assad through diplomacy is limited, some of the delegates at the conference, especially Gulf states long opposed to Assad, pressed for an international peacekeeping force in Syria and favored arming the Syrian rebels.

The Syrian opposition, meanwhile, appeared to be taking matters into its own hands, saying it was supplying weapons to rebels inside Syria while Western and other states turned a blind eye.

Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal led the hawkish camp, saying that arming the Syrian rebels would be "an excellent idea."

The UN said last month that 5,400 people have been killed in the Syrian uprising that began last March. Activists estimate that the number is over 7,300.