WASHINGTON — At a critical time in international diplomacy, the world's leading industrialized democracies on Thursday demanded that Syria comply with all portions of a U.N.-backed plan to end more than a year of deadly violence and warned Iran and North Korea not to engage in provocative behavior.
With the situation in Syria still uncertain and North Korea poised to launch a ballistic missile ahead of crucial talks with Iran over its nuclear program, the Group of Eight bloc urged speedy resolutions to the trio of front-burner issues.
The G-8 welcomed an apparent cease-fire between the Syrian government and opposition forces but cautioned that the pause in hostilities is only a first step in ending the crisis. And it renewed threats to take North Korea to the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions if it goes ahead with its satellite launch, while challenging Iran to prove it is serious in addressing concerns about its atomic intentions in weekend talks with the five permanent members of the council and Germany.
Speaking for the G-8 after its foreign ministers met for two days in Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said that while the Syrian truce appeared to be holding "at least for the moment," Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime was not complying with other parts of former U.N. chief Kofi Annan's initiative aimed at ending more than a year of deadly violence that has killed more than 9,000 people.
"If it holds, a cease-fire is an important step, but it represents just one element of the special envoy's plan," Clinton told reporters at the State Department, noting that the Assad government still has not withdrawn troops from cities and accepted a political transition.
"The Annan plan is not a menu of options, it is a set of obligations," she said. "The burden of fully and visibly meeting all of these obligations continues to rest with the regime. They cannot pick and choose. For it to be meaningful, this apparent halt in violence must lead to a credible political process and a peaceful, inclusive democratic transition."
"Our first imperative is to test the commitment" of the government to the Annan plan, she said.
Clinton said the U.S. supports the deployment of a U.N. mission to monitor compliance with the plan and would not back down on sanctions designed to press the government to accept the terms. The Annan plan does not specifically call for Assad to leave power, but Clinton said that remained the Obama administration's position.
"We remain firmly resolved that the regime's war against its own people must end for good and political transition must begin," she said. "Assad will have to go and the Syrian people must be given the chance to chart their own future."
The G-8 includes Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States, all of which signed on to the basics of Clinton's comments. However, Russia, which along with China has blocked U.N. action on Syria, is opposed to demands for Assad to leave power.
Clinton said she had separate talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov about the situation in Syria but did not reveal details of their conversation.
The meetings that Clinton hosted on Wednesday and Thursday at Blair House were held to prepare a NATO summit in Chicago and a G-8 meeting at the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland next month. The meetings come at a particularly delicate time for international diplomacy.
North Korea has fueled a missile that it plans to launch in the coming days in what the U.S. and others say would be a blatant violation of not only its U.N. obligations but also a February pledge to the United States not to conduct ballistic missile exercises. The North claims the launch is part of its space program and does not violate any previous agreements.
"We urge the North Korean leadership to honor its agreements and refrain from pursuing a cycle of provocation," Clinton said on behalf of the G-8. "We all share an interest in fostering security and stability on the Korean Peninsula, and the best way to achieve that is for North Korea to live up to its word."
Clinton and other U.S. officials have said they will cancel plans to send food aid to North Korea and will discuss next steps in the U.N. Security Council if the launch goes ahead. The window for the launch opened on Thursday and will close next week, according to North Korea.
At the same time, Clinton urged Iran's leadership to demonstrate it is ready to come clean about it nuclear program at talks to be held Saturday in Turkey between Iran, Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States. The U.S. and its allies, including Israel, accuse Iran of trying to develop nuclear weapons. Iran says it has no interest in an atomic bomb and insists its program is aimed at producing energy.
"We are united in our resolve and expectation that Iran will come to the talks prepared, and we are receiving signals that they are bringing ideas to the table," she said. "They assert that their program is purely peaceful. They point to a fatwa that the supreme leader has issued against the pursuit of nuclear weapons. We want them to demonstrate clearly in the actions they propose that they have truly abandoned any nuclear weapons ambition."