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Clinton cool on Russian call for Syria meeting
BAKU (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton dismissed on Wednesday a Russian proposal for a meeting on Syria that would include Iran, saying it was "a little hard to imagine inviting a country that is stage-managing Assad regime's assault on its people".
President Bashar al-Assad is fighting a 15-month-old revolt by armed insurgents and peaceful protesters, in which, the United Nations says, more than 10,000 people have been killed.
Clinton, speaking in Azerbaijan before heading for a conference on Syria in Istanbul, said participants would discuss "the essential elements of a democratic transition strategy (for Syria)".
"It is time for all of us to turn our attention to an orderly transition of power in Syria that paves the way for a democratic, tolerant, pluralistic future," she said before boarding the plane.
"It's clear that President Assad cannot, and has failed to, bring peace, stability or positive change to the Syrian people, and in fact has worked against all three."
Earlier in the day, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov proposed a broad meeting of Western and regional powers including Iran and Turkey to try to keep alive a peace plan brokered by international envoy Kofi Annan.
Iran, Syria's main regional ally, is at odds with the United States over its disputed nuclear programme and other issues.
Lavrov cast the suggested meeting as a more constructive alternative to the "Friends of Syria" forum that groups mainly Western and Arab countries opposed to Assad's rule. The forum plans to meet opposition groups in Paris by early July.
Moscow is under pressure to use its influence over Assad to coax Damascus to comply with a ceasefire declared by Annan on April 12, but never implemented. Russia puts most of the blame for the continuing violence on Syrian rebels.
Clinton said she would meet Annan on Friday to discuss other steps, including efforts to encourage Russia and China to use their influence over Assad "to end the bloodshed and work with the international community in promoting a transition."
Western officials see Russian cooperation as vital for the Annan plan or any other moves toward peace that envision a tougher line on Assad.
Russia and China, wary of setting precedents that might comfort opponents at home, have twice vetoed Western-backed Security Council resolutions on Syria. They remain set against forced political change or foreign intervention which they say would worsen the conflict and further destabilise the region.
Western and Arab governments blame forces loyal to Assad for a massacre of 108 people in the town of Houla last month, and many want a tougher response against Damascus.
Clinton said the Istanbul meeting later on Wednesday would assess the Syrian crisis and discuss possible measures, adding that work on tightening sanctions was continuing.
(Writing by Thomas Grove; Editing by Steve Gutterman and Alistair Lyon)
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