U.S. raps Syria over claim of photographing D.C. demonstrations
Tensions rise between the two countries after U.S. Ambassador to Syria visited protesters in Hama on Wednesday.
Despite the harsh exchanges between Damascus and Washington since demonstrations first broke out in Syria, at this stage the Syrian Ambassador to the United States Imad Mustapha will remain in the U.S. capital and U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford will remain at his post.
The decision to maintain the present state of affairs has led to uncomfortable incidents and disconcerting questions from Congress.
The Syrian ambassador was summoned on Wednesday by Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security Eric Boswell after reports emerged that employees of the Syrian Embassy videotaped and still-photographed demonstrators in front of the embassy.
"We received reports that Syrian mission personnel under Ambassador Mustapha’s authority have been conducting video and photographic surveillance of people participating in peaceful demonstrations in the United States," said State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland.
"The United States Government takes very seriously reports of any foreign government actions attempting to intimidate individuals in the United States who are exercising their lawful right to freedom of speech as protected by the U.S. Constitution," she said.
"We are also investigating reports that the Syrian government has sought retribution against Syrian family members for the actions of their relatives in the United States exercising their lawful rights in this country and will respond accordingly," Nuland added.
U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford also made waves in recent days when he decided to visit the city of Hama in Syria, this time without being accompanied by any Syrian officials, who registered a complaint over the incident.
The Ambassador's enthusiastic reception in Hama, in which demonstrators laid flowers on his car, drew attention and inquiries as to the purpose of his visit to Hama: Did he come to make his presence felt and prevent a massacre with his own body? Or was this an innocent trip made to gather information?
State Department spokesperson Nuland confirmed that the purpose of Ford's trip was to express support for the Syrian demonstrators in their demands for democracy. Noland said that Ford did not intend to become a story in and of himself, and therefore returned to Damascus before Friday's demonstrations.
Nuland said that the visit was in fact coordinated in advance with Syrian officials and called illogical the subsequent Syrian claim that the trip was not coordinated. She called upon the Syrians to focus on the demands of its citizenry and not on the activities of the U.S. Ambassador.