That sounds like an eternity in a war-ravaged country where, according to opposition activists, civilians were being killed last week at a rate of almost 100 a day. The delay seems certain to revive opposition charges that Assad is using negotiations to prolong his beleaguered regime.
Violence has escalated dramatically in recent weeks in Syria as armed rebels battle government forces loyal to Assad, whose family has ruled Syria in autocratic fashion for more than 40 years.
The rebellion began in March 2011 as a protest movement but has morphed into an armed uprising in towns and cities, including several restive suburbs of Damascus where heavy fighting has been reported in recent days. Reports Saturday indicated that government troops had largely retaken much of the city of Duma, outside the capital, where dozens have been reported killed in shelling and street battles.
The Assad government has fought back against the rebellion with artillery, tanks and infantry troops, causing numerous civilian deaths, according to human rights monitors. But the opposition has also been implicated in the killings of civilians and executions of prisoners in what a U.N.-commissioned report described as an increasingly sectarian conflict that could have "catastrophic" consequences if left unchecked.
Clinton seemed to second that sentiment Saturday.
"If Syria spirals further into civil war," she said, "not only will more civilians die, not only will more refugees stream across the borders, but instability will most certainly spill into neighboring states."