Secretary of State Hillary Clinton acknowledged the argument that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's punishing crackdown on his people could make him a war criminal – but warned this label could limit diplomatic options to end the escalating bloodshed there.
Ranking member of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations, Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., asked Clinton on Tuesday whether she believed Assad should be viewed by the international community as a war criminal. Calling the Syrian leader’s crackdown the “most extreme use of state violence in the Arab Spring," Clinton said: "There would be an argument to be made that [Assad] would fit into that category.”
“I also think that from long experience that can complicate the resolution of a difficult, complex situation because it limits options perhaps to persuade leaders to step down from power," she said.
Clinton agreed that eventually Assad will leave power-- but acknowledged she doesn't know how to define "eventually" at the moment. Clinton recently returned from a Friends of Syria meeting in Tunisia, where dozens of countries and international organizations met to find ways to increase humanitarian assistance to the Syrian opposition and ramp up the pressure on Assad.
Graham, along with Armed Services ranking member John McCain, R-Ariz., and Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., has called on Washington to provide the Syrian opposition with access to weapons and tactical intelligence in the uprising against Assad.