Robert Ford and Assad 311.
(photo credit: REUTERS/Sana Sana)
The United States has pulled its ambassador out of Syria because of what it said
were credible threats to his safety after his public support for protesters led
to attacks on his embassy and diplomatic convoy by supporters of President
Robert Ford left as a crackdown on protests and a nascent
armed insurgency intensified despite Western condemnation, and more businesses
and shops closed in southern Syria in the most sustained strike of the
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His departure signals a further deterioration of
relations between Syria’s rulers and Washington, which has called for Assad to
step down and deepened sanctions on Damascus to include the country’s small but
key oil sector.
“Ambassador Robert Ford was brought back to Washington as
a result of credible threats against his personal safety in Syria,” State
Department spokesman Mark Toner said on Monday. “At this point, we can’t say
when he will return to Syria. It will depend on our assessment of Syrian
regime-led incitement and the security situation on the ground.”
the US had any plans to expel the Syrian ambassador to Washington, Imad
Moustapha, a US official said: “Not at this time.” Meanwhile, a trip by the
Iranian foreign minister to Syria and Lebanon was cancelled because of Iranian
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s condemnation of the “killings” in Syria,
Beirut’s Daily Star newspaper reported Monday.
Ali Akbar Salehi was due
to meet with Lebanese Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour, President Michel Sleiman,
and Prime Minister Najib Mikati during his visit. Diplomatic sources told the
newspaper the visit had been cancelled after Ahmadinejad criticized the
seven-month crackdown on protesters in Syria, a key Iranian ally. Ahmadinejad’s
trip would have included Syria and other Arab countries, but those visits have
all been cancelled.
“Nobody has the right to kill others, neither the
government nor the opponents,” Ahmadinejad told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria this
“We are going to make greater efforts to encourage both the
government of Syria and the other side, all parties, to reach an
Iran has distanced itself from its longtime ally in
recent weeks, but Ahmadinejad’s comments reflect an unprecedented hardening of
tone between the two countries.
“Damascus, unsatisfied with Ahmadinejad’s
position, has informed Iran’s foreign minister through diplomatic channels that
Syria has no desire to welcome him during his upcoming tour of the region,” a
diplomatic source told the Daily Star. “For this reason, the trip was cancelled
On the ground in Syria, two people were killed in Homs – 140
kilometers north of Damascus – on Monday when troops and loyalist militiamen
fired at majority Sunni Muslim districts that have been a bastion for protests
and, lately, a refuge for army defectors leading armed resistance emerging
there, residents said.
Ford left Syria over the weekend, a Western
diplomat told Reuters, following a series of incidents that resulted in physical
damage but no casualties.
“Articles, more inciting against Ford than
usual, have appeared in state media recently.
He left on Saturday,” said
one of the diplomats, who like others asked not to be identified due to the
sensitivity of the issue.
At the end of September, Assad loyalists threw
concrete blocks at his convoy and hit the cars with iron bars as Ford was
visiting a centrist politician, according to an account published by the
ambassador the next day.
In July, several Assad loyalists broke into the
US Embassy in Damascus, tore down signs and tried to break security
They also attempted to break into Ford’s nearby residence but
failed to gain entry.
The mounting security clampdown has triggered a
strike by private businesses in towns across the Hauran Plain, which was the
first region where masses publicly turned against Assad.
concentrating on urban centers, protests have expanded in rural regions,
including some areas that were once bedrocks of Sunni support for Assad and are
seeing defections from the military and armed resistance.
cheered by protesters when he went in July to the anti-Assad hotbed city of
Hama, which was later stormed by tanks. He also visited a town that had
witnessed regular protests in Deraa, ignoring a ban on Western diplomats
traveling outside the Damascus area.
Along with a group of mostly Western
ambassadors, Ford later paid condolences to the family of Ghayath Matar, a 25-
year-old protest leader who had distributed flowers to give to soldiers but was
arrested and died of apparent torture, activists say.
to convince Assad to scale back an alliance with US arch-foe Iran and backing
for militant groups, acted to improve relations with Damascus after President
Barack Obama took office in 2009.