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Clinton pressures Russia on Syria

The U.S. is heaping new pressure on Russia to change course and support international action in Syria, warning that intransigence by Moscow may lead to open civil war that could spill across the Middle East with devastating effects.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton derided the Russian government for continuing to support Syrian President Bashar Assad, even after last week's massacre of more than 100 people in Houla. She said Russia's position "is going to help contribute to a civil war," rejecting Russian officials' insistence that their stance is helping to ease the crisis.

On the first stop of a European tour, Clinton said Russia and China would have to be on board before the U.S. and other nations might engage in what could become a protracted conflict in support of a disorganized rebel force in Syria.

Russia, along with China, has twice vetoed U.N. Security Council sanctions against Syria. Russia is Syria's closest ally along with Iran.

Clinton said that without Russia's support the international community is essentially frozen from taking concrete steps to end the violence.

"The Russians keep telling us they want to do everything they can to avoid a civil war because they believe that the violence would be catastrophic," she said, noting that they are "vociferous in their claim that they are providing a stabilizing influence."

"I reject that," she said, complaining that Russia is propping up Assad as his government continues a brutal, 15-month crackdown on dissent.

The Obama administration has called on Assad to step down and clear the way for a political transition. But mindful of a war-weary American public, it has stopped short of advocating direct U.S. military engagement in the country and stressed the need for diplomacy, particularly with Moscow, which continues to sell weapons and provide political support to Assad.

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