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Clinton calls for pressure on Syria in announcing refugee aid

Bloomberg

By Jason Scott and Gopal Ratnam

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for more pressure on Syria and announced $30 million in humanitarian aid to those affected by the 20-month uprising against President Bashar al-Assad that has killed thousands.

Speaking today after she and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta met with their Australian counterparts in Perth, Clinton said the ministers agreed the formation of the new Syrian opposition coalition was “an important step forward” in the conflict. France yesterday became the first Western country to formally recognize the rebel alliance in a conflict that has spawned an exodus of refugees to neighboring countries.

The American aid will “help get much-needed food to hungry people inside Syria and to refugees who have fled to Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq,” according to Clinton’s prepared remarks. Earlier, she called for “increased pressure on the Assad regime.”

President Barack Obama is backing the effort to oust Assad while realigning American security strategy to focus on the Asia-Pacific region as China’s military power grows. The U.S. is also seeking to pressure Iran through economic sanctions as Israel threatens to attack the Persian nation’s nuclear facilities.

“We agreed on the importance of holding the international community together to prevent Tehran from obtaining nuclear weapons,” Clinton said after she and Panetta met with Foreign Minister Bob Carr and Defense Minister Stephen Smith to discuss security cooperation. She reiterated U.S. support for a maritime code of conduct to ease tensions in the East China Sea.

Afghanistan Cooperation

The U.S. is preparing by the end of 2014 to wind down its military effort in Afghanistan, where Australian troops also serve. The two countries must work together to ensure that Afghanistan “never again becomes a staging ground for international terrorism,” Clinton said before the meeting.

Australia is seeking to cement relations with its main military ally, which is deploying as many as 2,500 Marines in nation’s north. Smith announced in May A$5.4 billion ($5.6 billion) in defense spending cuts over four years as Prime Minister Julia Gillard seeks to return the national budget to surplus in 2013.

“As we face budget constrictions in both of our countries, we still confront threats in the world,” Panetta said today. “Our biggest challenge now as we rebalance in the Pacific is to try to work with allies like Australia to try to help us with that effort.”

Clinton also called for finalizing the U.S.-led Trans- Pacific Partnership agreement, saying it will lower barriers, foster growth and raise labor and environmental standards.

After today’s talks, Clinton will travel to Adelaide to tour military shipbuilder Techport Australia tomorrow before heading to Southeast Asia on Nov. 16. Some of her trip to the region will coincide with the itinerary of Obama, who this month will become the first U.S. head of state to visit Myanmar while in office.