Sunday, July 10, 2011

Syrian 'national dialogue' to continue after activists decry violence

U.S. sends message to Syria, Congress

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration sent two distinct messages by dispatching the U.S. ambassador to Syria to meet anti-regime protesters in a besieged city. To Syrian President Bashar Assad: Reform now. To critics in the United States of its engagement policy: Stop complaining.
Greeted by demonstrators with roses and cheers, the envoy, Robert Ford, finished a two-day trip Friday to the restive city of Hama aimed at driving home the message that the United States stands with those in the Syrian streets braving a brutal government crackdown.
The visit prompted fierce reaction from the Syrian government and a renewed American warning that Assad was failing to stabilize his country by satisfying the democratic yearnings of his people.
 Ford "had a chance to talk to lots of average citizens; these were shopkeepers, people out on the street, young men," said Victoria Nuland, the State Department spokeswoman. "When he got into the city, the car was immediately surrounded by friendly protesters who were putting flowers on the windshield, they were putting olive branches on the car, they were chanting 'Down with the regime!' It was quite a scene."
So far, the U.S. government has refused to suggest an end to the Assad family's four-decade dynasty. The government's harsh repression of dissent has escalated the crisis with protesters increasingly demanding Assad's removal after 11 years full of promises of democratic reform but little change from the iron-fisted rule of his father.
The Obama administration has grown increasingly disgusted with the violence in Syria that has claimed the lives of 1,600 people plus 350 members of the security forces. Yet it has not mustered sufficient international outrage to secure a U.N. condemnation of Assad's government or a unified global demand that he step down.
The administration cannot press too hard by itself because the threat of military action would not be taken seriously while it is trying to wind down wars in neighboring Iraq and in Afghanistan, and struggling to justify its participation in an international coalition against Moammar Gadhafi in Libya.
The solution has been to balance stinging criticism of the Assad regime's conduct with continued pleas for it to lead a democratic transition. Still, the measured approach has faced a clamoring at home and in Syria for tougher action.
There has been no U.S. ambassador in Syria for the five previous years in protest of alleged Syrian involvement in the assassination of a Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, a steadfast critic of Syria's domination of his country.
Republican members of Congress have challenged Ford's continued presence in the country, characterizing it as an unwarranted reward to Assad's often pro-Iran and anti-U.S. government stances, and untenable in light of recent violence against civilians.
Ford's participation in a Syrian government-organized trip to the country's north last month did not help. The State Department said then that Ford's outing to the abandoned town of Jisr al-Shughour allowed him to "see for himself the results of the Syrian government's brutality." However, he mostly encountered deserted streets and buildings that would not prove the existence of a foreign conspiracy to destabilize Syria, as the government claims, or mass atrocities, as Western governments and human rights groups allege.More...

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