Syrian President Bashar Assad came under a new barrage of international pressure Tuesday, with the Turkish foreign minister urging him to stop killing protesters and U.S. officials saying the Obama administration is preparing to demand his departure.
Even as Assad held more than six hours of talks with the visiting Turkish minister, his military unleashed fresh attacks on restive areas, killing more than 20 people, according to activists.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said he met the Syrian leader in the capital, Damascus, and discussed "concrete steps" to end the violent crackdown on protesters.
Rights groups say about 1,700 people have been killed since March. An aggressive new military offensive that began with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan a week ago has killed several hundred.
Speaking to reporters on his return to Turkey, Davutoglu said the talks were cordial.
"We discussed ways to prevent confrontation between the army and the people and tensions like those in Hama in the most open and clear way," Davutoglu said, referring to the Syrian city that has become a flashpoint in the 5-month-old uprising against Assad's autocratic rule.
"The coming days will be important to see if the expectations are being met. We hope that internal peace and calm is achieved and steps for reform are taken."
Assad rebuffed the pressure to scale back the crackdown. Instead, Syria's state-run news agency said he told Davutoglu the government will relentlessly fight "terrorist groups" -- a term Syrian authorities often use for government opponents.
The SANA news agency said Assad also pledged to press ahead with reforms. But promises of reform of have rung hollow against the backdrop of the crackdown.
In Washington, officials said the administration will call for Assad to give up power and will impose tough new sanctions. The State Department signaled for the first time that American efforts to engage the Syrian government are finally over. The White House is expected to lay out the tougher line by the end of this week, possibly on Thursday.
The officials said the move will be a direct response to Assad's decision to step up the ruthlessness of the crackdown against pro-reform demonstrators by sending tanks into opposition hotbeds.