* Top U.S. diplomat rejects "proxies, terrorists" coming in
* Now is time to plan for "day after" Assad - Clinton
* Clinton seeks to bring S.Africa on board with Syria plan
By Andrew Quinn
PRETORIA, Aug 7 Syria must not be allowed to
descend into a sectarian war, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary
Clinton said on Tuesday, and she warned against "proxies or
terrorist fighters" being sent in to join the conflict.
"We have to set very clear expectations about avoiding
sectarian warfare," Clinton said, answering a question on Syria
during a news conference in the South African capital Pretoria,
her latest stop in a tour of Africa.
"Those who are attempting to exploit the situation by
sending in proxies or terrorist fighters must realize that will
not be tolerated, first and foremost by the Syrian people," she
The U.S. secretary of state made the comments as Syrian
government forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad encircled
rebels in the country's biggest city of Aleppo..
She did not elaborate on her reference to "proxies or
terrorist fighters" or name any particular country or group.
But the escalating war in Syria has increasingly divided the
region along its sectarian faultline, pitting the mainly Sunni
rebels, who are backed by regional Sunni-led powers Turkey and
the Gulf Arab states, against Assad's government that is backed
by Shi'ite Iran.
Iran assured the Syrian president on Tuesday that it viewed
his country as a vital partner.
With action on Syria at the United Nations Security Council
effectively blocked by vetoes from Russia and China, the United
States and its allies have pledged to increase political support
for the Syrian opposition.
Clinton said the United States had taken note of the
defection on Monday of Assad's Prime Minister Riyad Hijab, who
fled the country and denounced the "terrorist regime" in
The defection of Hijab, who like most of the opposition
hails from the Sunni Muslim majority, was a further sign of the
isolation of Assad's government around an inner core of powerful
members of his minority Alawite sect.
"That's the latest in a line of such defections and the
opposition is becoming increasingly coordinated and effective.
It now reportedly holds territory from northern Aleppo to the
Turkish border," Clinton said, adding the rebels had also seized
weapons from the government, including tanks.
PLANS FOR POST-ASSAD SYRIA
Clinton said the opposition gains, combined with the
fracturing of some of Assad's support, made it imperative for
the world to step up work on planning for a post-Assad Syria.
"We can begin talking about and planning for what happens
next, the day after the regime does fall. I'm not going to put a
timeline on it, I can't possibly predict it, but I know it's
going to happen," Clinton said.
"We must figure out ways to hasten the day when the
bloodshed ends and the political transition begins ... We have
to make very sure that state institutions stay intact," she
Clinton said she intended to discuss the challenges facing
Syria when she flies to Turkey for talks on Saturday. Turkey has
been a vocal critic of Assad's internal crackdown, but will also
host Iran's foreign minister for separate talks.
The U.S. secretary of state also discussed the Syria issue
with South African Foreign Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane,
whose country has expressed doubts about the U.S.-led drive to
impose tough international measures on Assad.
South Africa joined Pakistan in abstaining during the latest
U.N. Security Council vote on possible sanctions on Damascus,
saying the draft resolution was unbalanced because it only
targeted the government and not the rebels. This echoed similar
Russian and Chinese complaints.
Nkoana-Mashabane told the news conference in Pretoria that
South Africa could only support a "made-in-Syria" solution to
the crisis that did not involve foreign intervention.
"South Africa's position is and has always been that no
amount of bloodshed will ever take the place of a political
solution," she said.