Washington — The Obama administration welcomed increased pressure on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime from his neighbors in the Middle East as a sign that Syria’s rulers are increasingly isolating themselves from the international community as a result of their brutal crackdown on peaceful demonstrators calling for political reforms.
State Department spokesman Mark Toner said August 8 that the United States is “encouraged [and] heartened” by strong statements from the Arab League and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) on August 7 and August 6, respectively, that expressed alarm over the Assad regime’s actions and called for an end to the violence.
Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain have announced that they are recalling their ambassadors from Damascus.
“These are further signs that the international community … is repulsed by the brutal actions of the Syrian government and is standing with the Syrian people,” and “that President Assad and his government are further isolating themselves from the international community through their actions,” Toner said.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said August 4 that the Obama administration estimates that the Assad regime has killed more than 2,000 Syrians since the demonstrations began in March. The United States has enacted unilateral sanctions targeting the Syrian leadership and affiliated businesses, and Clinton called for countries with closer ties to Syria to join the United States in taking action and creating “a much louder, more effective chorus of voices that are putting pressure on the Assad regime.”
Toner said Assad’s “neighbors and other powerful countries and voices in the region” need to be involved, not just the United States and the United Nations, to bring enough pressure against Assad to make him end the violence and mass arrests.
The United States is beginning to see broader international pressure coalescing around Syria. Toner said the Arab League and GCC had issued “strong statements decrying the violence.” Coupled with the recall of the Saudi, Kuwaiti and Bahraini ambassadors, “the message is becoming clearer and clearer to Assad that he has fewer and fewer friends,” he said.
“What Assad will do with that message remains to be seen. He’s talked again about reforms while at the same time … carrying out armored attacks continuing in Hama as well as now Deir ez-Zor. So it’s not encouraging,” Toner said.
Secretary Clinton spoke with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu August 7 and thanked him for his upcoming visit to Syria and for Turkey’s role in helping to address the crisis, including its assistance to Syrian refugees who have fled the violence.
According to Toner, Clinton told Davutoğlu that the Obama administration wants Syria to “immediately return its military to barracks and release all prisoners of concern.”
“She asked the foreign minister to reinforce these messages with the Syrian government. She also discussed American support for a transition to democracy in Syria,” Toner said August 7.
U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford told ABC Television’s This Week that the Assad regime “is using a great deal more violence than was used in Egypt” by former President Hosni Mubarak against the demonstrations that ended his regime.
In an August 4 interview, Ford said U.S. officials see Assad and his regime as the source of instability and violence in Syria and that President Obama has said the Assad regime “will be left in the past.”
“We have said, and we’ve been very clear on this, we do not view Bashar al-Assad as indispensible. We do not view his continuation in power as important to American interests,” Ford said.
Ford was criticized by Syrian authorities for undertaking a visit to the besieged city of Hama in July. He told ABC that it is important for foreign diplomats to be able to travel in Syria in order to “bear witness to what the Syrian government is doing.”
The Assad regime has largely barred independent media outlets from the country. Ford said the state-owned Syrian television service “is not credible and tells all kinds of lies.”
For example, Syrian television has reported armed gangs in Hama, while “the only weapon I saw was a slingshot,” Ford said.
He said it is important to relay a message of support to the Syrian people, and U.S. diplomats are looking for ways to reach out through Facebook and other social media outlets.
In his conversations with the Syrian people, Ford said, he has found that despite the violence being inflicted by armed security forces against unarmed demonstrators, the people were “very clear” in saying they do not want the United States to intervene militarily to stop the violence.
“I want to underline that. They did not want American military intervention,” Ford said.
The Obama administration will continue to look at additional unilateral measures it can take to pressure the Assad regime, as well as “measures that we can work with partners to get the Syrian government to stop shooting protesters, to release political prisoners and to stop these arrest campaigns,” he said.