Clinton: Assad ‘failed to deliver,’ is ‘not indispensable’

Rebuke comes after Syrian loyalists attack US, French embassies; American expert: State Dept. has realized Assad is no reformer

By OREN KESSLER
July 11, 2011 23:15
Hillary Clinton

Clinton Blasts Gadaffi 311 R. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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The United States on Tuesday said the Syrian government has lost legitimacy and France called for a Security Council meeting after regime loyalists attacked the US and French embassies in Damascus.

Denunciations of Syrian President Bashar Assad from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and French Prime Minister Francois Fillon marked those countries’ sharpest condemnation yet of the Syrian strongman, who is struggling to put down four months of revolts.

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“From our perspective, he has lost legitimacy. He has failed to deliver on the promises he’s made. He has sought and accepted aid from the Iranians as to how to repress his own people,” Clinton said, adding Assad is “not indispensable.”

“We have absolutely nothing invested in him remaining in power,” she said in an appearance with European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

Syria promptly denounced Clinton’s remarks, with the state news agency SANA calling them “provocative” and aimed at “continuing the internal tension.”

“These statements are another proof of the US’s flagrant intervention in Syria’s internal affairs. The legitimacy of Syria’s leadership is not based on the United States or others; it stems from the will of the Syrian people,” it said.



The attacks followed protests against a visit by US Ambassador Robert Ford and French envoy Eric Chevallier to Hama, now the focus of the uprising against Assad.

Ash Jain, a visiting fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and former member of the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff, said Clinton’s rhetoric marks a significant change in the US administration’s tone.

“What we saw the other day with Ambassador Ford when he made his visit to Hama signaled a turning point in the relationship. The government is now prepared to move one step further in saying the regime is ‘not indispensable.’ This is a very significant step towards the US coming out affirmatively and calling for Assad to go,” Jain told The Jerusalem Post by phone.

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turmoil in the Middle East

Still, Jain said he would stop short of describing Clinton’s remarks as a game-changer.

“It doesn’t change anything on the ground. The regime is still in charge of the military and security apparatus. And that won’t change, no matter what Secretary Clinton or President Obama say,” said Jain, who for six years advised US officials on managing security threats posed by Syria, Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas.

“But this might add to the undermining of the regime’s legitimacy within Syria among groups that have so far stood by the regime.”

Clinton spoke after crowds broke into the US embassy on Monday and tore down plaques, while security guards using live ammunition drove crowds away from the French embassy.

France is seeking a UN condemnation of the attacks on the embassies and French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said Washington had also pushed for a council meeting that should happen later on Tuesday.

Fillon described the Security Council’s silence on Syria as “unbearable,” adding that China and Russia were blocking the adoption of a UN resolution, efforts that are unacceptable.

“We hope the Security Council will condemn the embassy attacks,” he said. “We want the Security Council to speak out on what has happened.”

The administration of US President Barack Obama has steadily toughened its rhetoric on Assad as Syrian security forces crack down on pro-democracy protests. But it had previously refrained from calling on Assad to step down, as it did following protests against longtime leaders in Egypt and Libya.

“The leverage the US has in terms of what happens in Syria is quite limited. This isn’t Egypt or even Libya, where the West was prepared to intervene,” Jain said.

Washington has imposed targeted sanctions on Assad and members of his inner circle, and has said it is working with its allies to build international consensus for further steps to put pressure on his government.

Syria said Ford sought to incite protests. The State Department denied that and said Ford toured Hama to show solidarity with residents facing security crackdowns.

Human rights groups say at least 1,400 civilians have been killed since an uprising began in March against Assad’s autocratic rule, posing the biggest threat to his leadership since he succeeded his father.

Clinton’s comments marked a significant sharpening of US criticism of Assad.

“The government thought for a while that the Assad regime might move toward stemming the bloodshed and implementing reform, and I think now it’s seeing the light – that that’s not going to happen,” Jain added.

He said he would not be surprised if Obama also ratcheted up his rhetoric over the coming days and weeks, perhaps explicitly calling for Assad to go.

“Many people at [the] State [Department] seemed to view Assad as somehow different, a different kind of dictator, someone who always talked the right game and convinced a lot of people he was serious about peace in the Middle East and about serious reforms. That belief seemed to somehow remain even as we saw what the regime was orchestrating,” he said.

“I think we’re seeing now that the Secretary and her colleagues feel the case for him being a reformer simply is not there. There really is no prospect after this bloodshed and carnage over the past few months – it really is time for him to go.”

Reuters contributed to this report

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