Syrian President Bashar Assad leaves the Elysee Palace following his meeting with his French counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy, in Paris, Friday Nov. 13, 2009. Assad says that Mideast peace will be the main issue in his talks with President Nicolas Sarkozy and that "France must act." (AP Photo/Remy de la Mauviniere)ASSOCIATED PRESS

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Syrian President Bashar al-Assad appointed a new prime minister on Thursday, just days after the defection of the last man who held that position, Reuters reports.

Former Health Minister Wael al-Halki replaced Riad Hijab, who recently defected to Jordan, as prime minster. Halki, like Hijab, is of the Sunni Muslim minority, the group driving the uprising that has crippled the country for 17 months.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, speaking in South Africa, said the U.S. and Western nations are preparing for a Syria without Assad, according to the State Department. 

"The intensity of the fighting in Aleppa, the defections point out how imperative it is that we come and work towards a good transition plan," she said. "I would hope that everyone would recognize that the best way to get there quickest is to stop the fighting and begin a political transition to a better future for the Syrian people."

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said on Thursday that the momentum is shifting to the side of the opposition as fighting intensifies and more high-level official defect. The State Department and the Pentagon are preparing for a post-Assad Syria, trying to avoid the situation Iraq found itself after Saddam Hussein's ouster.

"We support a political transition and a unity of government that consists of individuals from the opposition and even those that may be acceptable within the current regime, such that there can be a period of time when democratic forces can come together and the constitution can be written and elections can be held," Rice said on MSNBC's Morning Joe.

The U.S. is already providing "vast quantities" of humanitarian assistance, communications equipment and medical supplies to opposition forces, Rice said. The work by the U.S. and allies, such as Turkey, she said, will embolden the opposition.

"We will continue to keep the pressure on the regime until it's gone," Rice said.

This article is from the archive of our partner National Journal.

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