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White House toughens stance on Syria's Assad

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House hardened its stance against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Wednesday, saying the United States viewed him as the cause of instability in the country.

"We do not want to see him remain in Syria for stability's sake and, rather, we view him as the cause of instability in Syria," Carney told a news briefing, toughening the U.S. position on the Syrian leader who has launched military assaults against unarmed protesters.

While repeating the Obama administration's call for Assad to stop the violence, release thousands of detainees and make way for a democratic transition, Carney said the White House was also looking for more ways to squeeze Damascus.

"We will certainly continue to look at ways to take further steps to put pressure on the regime to end its violence. And we think, frankly, that it's safe to say that Syria would be a better place without President Assad," he said.

The United States has already imposed sanctions on Assad and members of his government, and is thought to be weighing new sanctions including ones on the Syrian oil and gas industry.

Senators called on the White House on Tuesday to tighten its grip on Syria's energy sector to help put muscle behind its demand that Assad halt his lethal crackdown.

At the United Nations, a draft Security Council statement that could be adopted on Wednesday would condemn human rights violations and use of force against civilians by Syrian authorities, council diplomats said.

The Syrian government blames armed terrorist groups for most killings in the 5-month-old revolt, saying more than 500 soldiers and security personnel have died.

Opposition and human rights groups say more than 1,600 civilians have been killed.

(Reporting by Laura MacInnis, Alister Bull and Andrew Quinn; Editing by Xavier Briand)

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