Illness forces Clinton to briefly delay trip to meeting on Syria

WASHINGTON Mon Dec 10, 2012 8:17am IST

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks during a news conference at Stormont Castle in Belfast December 7, 2012. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks during a news conference at Stormont Castle in Belfast December 7, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been taken ill with a stomach virus and will delay by one day her trip to Morocco for a meeting on the future of Syria's opposition, the State Department said on Sunday.

Clinton, who had been due to depart for the meeting in the Moroccan city of Marrakesh on Monday, will now leave on Tuesday, spokesman Philippe Reines said in an emailed statement.

"Because she has a stomach virus, our departure for Morocco has been moved from Monday to Tuesday. She will not have any schedule tomorrow in Washington," Reines said.

Clinton is due to join foreign ministers from allied nations in Morocco to discuss the 20-month old Syria crisis as rebels fighting to topple President Bashar al-Assad push forward on the battlefield and take steps to unify the political opposition.

The Morocco meeting of the "Friends of Syria" group is expected to focus on new moves to strengthen and legitimize the recently formed Syrian opposition coalition.

Clinton may announce formal U.S. recognition of the group as "the legitimate representative" of the Syrian people. Such an endorsement could pave the way for it to become a government-in-waiting and to receive fresh U.S. humanitarian help for a mounting refugee crisis spilling across Syria's borders.

Clinton is scheduled to continue from Morocco to Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates.

She has kept up a punishing pace in her final weeks as secretary of state, a position she says she intends to leave once President Barack Obama begins his second term in late January.

She returned to the United States late on Friday from a trip to Europe, which included a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Brussels. She stopped in Ireland where she met Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to discuss whether Washington and Moscow can resolve sharp disagreements over the way forward on Syria.

Russia and China have vetoed three United Nations Security Council resolutions aimed at pressuring the Assad government to halt the violence and begin a political transition. Moscow, a longtime ally of Syria, has accused the United States and its allies of seeking to destabilize the Damascus government.

Both Clinton and Lavrov emerged from the Dublin meeting indicating that no immediate breakthrough was at hand, but U.S. and Russian officials have held more talks as rebels appear to bringing the fighting to the doorstep of Syria's capital. (Reporting By Andrew Quinn; editing by Christopher Wilson)

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