U.S. State Department Official: 'Time Is Running Out for Assad'

Secretary of State Clinton's op-ed in the Asharq Al-Awsat outlines U.S. support for Syrian protesters demanding end to Assad regime.

The U.S. Administration is looking for additional ways to put pressure on Bashar Assad’s regime in Syria, State Department officials said on Friday.

“We’re appalled by the violence, we’re revolted, and we’re extremely disturbed by the number of deaths of Syrian civilians at the hands of their own government,” said one official. “We are operating in a number of ways in order to increase the pressure on President Assad. We’re not really seeing any genuine effort in response. The international community sees this as well, including countries like Turkey. Amr Moussa, the Secretary General of the Arab League, a couple of days ago made a very strong statement. And what this indicates is that by the actions he’s taking, Assad is putting his country clearly on the path to becoming a pariah state. Iran seems at this point to be Syria’s last friend, and what a friend to have. They continue to provide advice and equipment to Bashar Assad to repress his own people”.

assad - Reuters - 7.6.11

The U.S. Administration has already imposed sanctions, including targeting the Syrian President personally. Now, the official said, the Obama administration is seeking ways to increase the pressure – and looking at additional economic steps, including steps dealing with the oil and gas sectors in Syria.

“In a perfect world we should be moving faster,” he said. “But what we’re doing is, we’re actively building a broad-based approach with our partners bilaterally, multilaterally, regionally, internationally in order to make sure that we’re all moving ahead in a sensible way that backs the Syrian people themselves. There hasn’t been a galvanizing effect, such as Gadhafi’s threat to basically raze Benghazi to the ground. But there, nevertheless, is an appalling amount of violence and death, and we’re working with our partners to make sure that the response is as effective as possible.”

“Time is running out for Assad. But the people in the driver’s seat right now are the Syrians themselves. The Syrian people themselves are the ones that are driving the agenda, that are making the demands, that are expressing their views, that are reacting to the repression, and the international community is simply trying to support the Syrian people achieve their demands in terms of universal rights, in terms of a beginning of a transition away from a closed, one-party structure.”

One track the U.S. Administration is pushing for is action at the UN Security Council, in addition to the resolution that passed earlier this week at the UN Human Rights Council.

“We’re working to see if it’s appropriate in other forums in the international system to deal with some of the questions that have come up,” he added. “There is this building international consensus in response to what’s happening, the repression that’s going on and the deaths that are continuing. We are looking for ways to support the Syrian people and the Security Council is an important part of that, and we’re going to continue working on that.”

“One of the interesting phenomena that we’ve noticed is that where the security services are present is where the violence happens,” noted the official. “If you look at someplace like Hama, where the security services have pulled out, the demonstrations were peaceful. What we’ve seen develop is that the regime itself and its repression are the sources of the instability. If you look at the fact that there now seems to be something like 8,000 refugees that are in Turkey, that’s not because of outside forces trying to destabilize Syria. It’s because of the actions that the Syrian regime itself has taken.”

The official sounded skeptical about the speech the Syrian president is supposed to give on Sunday.

“He can say whatever words he wants,” he said. “He has called for reform, he’s talked about cancelling the emergency law, he’s said lots of things over the past couple of months. It seems that the Syrian people are losing patience with the sorts of mixed messages from the Syrian government, actions that show that the Syrian Government does not have good intent. The announcement yesterday by Rami Makhlouf, that he’s devoting his life now to charity - that’s just almost ludicrous at this point.”

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton published an op-ed in the Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, titled “There Is No Going Back in Syria”. Clinton wrote, “President Assad has shown that he is more interested in his own power than his people,” and added that “it is increasingly clear that President Assad has made his choice. while continued brutality may allow him to delay the change that is underway in Syria, it will not reverse it. If President Assad believes that the protests are the work of foreign instigators – as his government has claimed – he is wrong. It is true that some Syrian soldiers have been killed, and we regret the loss of those lives too. But the vast majority of casualties have been unarmed civilians. By continuing to ban foreign journalists and observers, the regime seeks to hide these facts. By following Iran’s lead, President Assad is placing himself and his regime on the wrong side of history. He will learn that legitimacy flows from the consent of the people and cannot be forged through bullets.”

“If President Assad believes he can act with impunity because the international community hopes for his cooperation on other issues, he is wrong about this as well,” warned Clinton. “He and his regime are certainly not indispensable…. Syria is headed toward a new political order - and the Syrian people should be the ones to shape it… The United States chooses to stand with the Syrian people and their universal rights. We condemn the Assad regime’s disregard for the will of its citizens and Iran’s insidious interference.”

The U.S. Ambassador Robert Ford is still in Damascus, and although the Syrian government is reluctant to meet with him recently, the U.S. Administration officials said they “strongly support having him there,” because of his meetings with the opposition and his ability to provide information about the situation on the ground. “He is able to basically refute some of the regime propaganda that the regime tries to put out into the international sphere, Robert is able to put this in context for Washington policy makers who are having to grapple with decisions,” said an administration official.