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The Obama administration’s recall of the US ambassador from Syria signals the latest diplomatic impasse between the United States and Syria. Despite eight months of diplomatic initiatives and economic sanctions, Syrian President Bashar Assad shows no signs of moving aside.
Citing “credible threats” against his personal safety, the United States recalled Robert Ford from his post as US ambassador to Syria. The State Department said Ford’s return to Damascus would be contingent upon an “assessment of Syrian regime-led incitement and the security situation on the ground.” The reaction by the Syrian government to the decision was to immediately recall its own ambassador from Washington.
Ford’s security has been in growing jeopardy since July 2011 when he visited the Syrian city of Hama and was greeted warmly by anti-government protesters. Ford’s welcome prompted Syrian authorities to incite hundreds of pro-government sympathizers to attack the US embassy in Damascus, where they smashed windows and spray-painted obscenities on the walls.
From that point on, Ford has been the subject of several incidents of intimidation by pro-Assad supporters, including one in which he was pelted with eggs and tomatoes while going to a mosque in Damascus.
While the Obama administration was quick to point out that Ford’s recall was not a formal breakdown in relations with Syria, the move underscores the failure to date of diplomatic initiatives and economic sanctions to either dislodge Assad from power or force him to enter into negotiations with Syrian dissidents.
The latest efforts against the Syrian regime include a new series of economic sanctions — on top of the ones already levied on Syria’s banking and oil sectors — by the European Union. They also include diplomatic efforts by the Arab League to host talks between the Syrian government and the Syrian opposition, an effort which has been rejected by both sides.
This latter rejection certainly makes sense given that Syrian President Bashar has steadfastly maintained that the uprising against his government, which began in March, has been fomented by “armed terrorists groups” carrying out a “foreign agenda,” resulting in the deaths of over 1,100 Syrian army and police personnel.
For its part, the Syrian National Transition Council, formed in early October as the leading voice of the Syrian protest movement, won’t negotiate until Assad stops his murderous assault against Syria’s civilian protesters, assaults which to date have produced an estimated 3,000 deaths and over 10,000 wounded.
Unfortunately, Assad continues to have his security forces ratchet up the violence to new and disturbing levels, with the latest deadly killings coming when Syrian tank forces killed at least 25 people in the Syrian city of Homs.
Syrian security forces have also been accused of arresting an estimated 250 doctors and pharmacists treating wounded anti-government protesters since the start of the uprising. In one case, Human Rights Watch said Syrian security forces “forcibly removed” patients from a hospital and prevented doctors from reaching the wounded during a military siege in Homs.
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