- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Obama administration has turned down a plea from Syria’s democratic opposition to step up diplomatic pressure on President Bashar Assad, who has violently repressed peaceful anti-government protests.

“The White House has to date rejected our requests for stronger action on Syria,” Ammar Abdulhamid, an unofficial spokesman in the West for the Syrian activists organizing the widespread demonstrations, told The Washington Times.

Major protests have been called throughout Syria for Friday. On Thursday, Mr. Assad announced a new Cabinet and released some political prisoners in an attempt to head off more demonstrations.

In the past two weeks, National Security Council staff have held two meetings with Western representatives of the organizers of the Syrian demonstrations, the most sustained civil disobedience movement in Syria since Mr. Assad’s father, Hafez Assad, seized power in a 1966 military coup.

The movement in Syria, much like the Web-organized protests in Tunisia and Egypt before it, is leaderless and relies on local committees throughout the country that coordinate activities through Facebook and other social media.

Tommy Vietor, a spokesman for the National Security Council, said, “The National Security Council staff meet with stakeholders from a host of countries, including Syria, all the time. We get recommendations from these meetings and we take them under advisement.”

In the White House meetings, the opposition representatives have asked for President Obama personally to condemn the Assad regime on camera. They also called for the United States to impose sanctions on regime officials who ordered the military to fire on the crowds and for the United States to support a separate resolution against Syria at an April 27 session of the U.N. Human Rights Council.

“President Obama has not personally condemned the regime. The White House has not yet issued sanctions against officials who ordered soldiers to fire on peaceful demonstrators. The White House will not say whether they will pursue a Syria specific resolution at the U.N. Human Rights Council,” Mr. Abdulhamid said.

The White House on April 8 issued a written statement from Mr. Obama that said, “It is time for the Syrian government to stop repressing its citizens and to listen to the voices of the Syrian people calling for meaningful political and economic reforms.”

On Thursday, State Department spokesman Mark Toner criticized Iran for helping Syria repress its non-violent opposition.

Radwan Ziadeh, director of the Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies who attended both meetings with White House officials, told The Washington Times that the administration’s response for more pressure on the Assad regime has been “lukewarm.”

“They told us they do not have the same leverage with Syria that they do with Egypt,” he said. “We asked them to use stronger language on Syria. We want Obama to say something himself in his own words.”

Mr. Ziadeh added that the U.S. officials said they are working with the European Union to draft a resolution for the Human Rights Council special session. But the proposed resolution will address the crackdowns in Bahrain, Yemen and Syria.

“We are trying to push the United States to do more on this,” he said. “We want to see a separate resolution on Syria.”

Mr. Ziadeh said 191 people have died since protests began in Syria on March 18. He estimated that at least 900 activists have been detained by the government.

Story Continues →