The United States and European Union said Tuesday they are preparing to hit Syria's leaders with new sanctions as it continues a brutal crackdown on anti-government protesters. The pledge came as the Obama administration stepped up its condemnation of the Syrian government and for the first time suggested that the decades-long repressive rule of the country by the Assad family may have to end.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton told reporters that Washington and Brussels were reviewing fresh penalties and would act fast.
"We will be taking additional steps in the days ahead," Clinton said after meeting Ashton at the State Department.
"There will be a number of moves in the coming hours and days that you will see," Ashton said.
American officials said the U.S. sanctions would be announced before or during a major speech President Barack Obama will deliver Thursday on developments in the Middle East and North Africa. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the penalties and the speech are still in the works. Neither they nor Clinton would be more specific about the scope of the new sanctions.
The U.S. and EU already have imposed sanctions on selected members of Syrian President Bashar Assad's government. Those sanctions have not yet targeted Assad himself.
Clinton and Ashton said they were increasingly alarmed by developments in Syria where more than 850 people have been killed in more than a month of violence. They said the Assad government was running out of time to change course and forestall new international measures against it.
"They have embraced the worst tactics of their Iranian ally, and they have refused to honor the legitimate aspirations of their own people in Syria," Clinton said. "President Assad talks about reform, but his heavy-handed, brutal crackdown shows his true intentions."
Clinton's pointed accusation about Assad bearing personal responsibility for the repression came as the White House ramped up its criticism of his rule.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said democratic change had to come to Syria.
"The recent events in Syria we believe prove that the country cannot go back to the status quo ante," he said. "Syria's future will only be secured by a government that reflects the popular will of its people."
"The window is narrowing for the Syrian government to shift focus away from repressing its people and towards meeting the legitimate aspirations of its people," he said.
In her comments with Clinton, Ashton agreed.
"This is extremely urgent and if the government, as it keeps telling us it does, wants to see some kind of change, it's got to be now," she said.