US Embassy in Damascus after protest 311 (R).
(photo credit: REUTERS)
WASHINGTON – The Obama administration dispatched its Syrian envoy back overseas
Friday, despite protests from those who said the move sent the wrong message to
Damascus at a time when it is slaughtering opposition protesters.
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same time, a bipartisan coalition representing more than half of the US House of
Representatives wrote a letter to President Barack Obama urging him to expand
the sanctions available to him under the Syria Accountability Act, which gives
him several options for sanctions but does not mandate they all be
The letter, co-authored by House Foreign Affairs Committee
Chairwoman Ileana Ros- Lehtinen (R-Florida) and Ranking Member Howard Berman
(D-California), called on him to implement the existing provisions at his
disposal to prohibit American companies from doing business in Syria and to
block any transactions involving Syrian interests in the United
“We share your concern for the Syrian government’s unconscionable
brutality and violence in response to calls for real political reform,” they
wrote, along with 221 other members from both parties.
“The US and all
responsible nations must impose the strongest possible sanctions on the
murderous Syrian regime,” they said.
Meanwhile, the US State Department
issued a travel warning Friday evening urging Americans to immediately leave
Syria “while commercial transportation is available,” and told all those outside
the country to defer travel there.
“Syrian efforts to attribute the
current civil unrest to external influences may lead to an increase in
Detained US citizens may find themselves
subject to allegations of incitement or espionage,” the announcement stated.
“Syrian government constraints on observers, including the short-term detention
of accredited diplomats, have made it difficult for US Embassy personnel to
adequately assess the current risks or the potential for continuing
State Department spokesman Mark Toner described the decision
to return Ambassador Robert Ford to that environment as one that would boost the
US efforts to end Syrian President Bashar Assad’s crackdown and lead to a
“He will remain engaged with the Syrian government
to make clear that the Assad regime’s brutal repression of the Syrian people
must cease immediately,” Toner explained.
“He also will continue to
engage with the Syrian people as they strive to exercise their universal human
He added, “The United States will continue to support the Syrian
people in their efforts to begin a peaceful and orderly transition to democracy
in Syria and to have their aspirations realized.”
During his trip to
Washington last week, Ford met with US President Barack Obama and testified
before the Senate, which will need to reconsider his appointment as he currently
has only a temporary post.
Elliott Abrams, who was a senior adviser on
the Middle East in the George W. Bush National Security Council, argued on
Friday that the US had more to gain by keeping Ford home.
that the State Department makes is he’s very useful there,” according to Abrams,
but he added, “He can’t bear witness.
He can’t go back to Hama. If he is
now left only in Damascus, not because of us of course but because of the Assad
government... his utility diminishes.”
Abrams concluded, “If it turns out
that he can’t see anybody and he can’t go anywhere, the symbolic importance of
removing him, the final break with the regime, is smart.”