- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 21, 2011

U.S. ENVOY STAYING IN SYRIA

President Obama is resisting new appeals for the recall of the U.S. ambassador to Syria, after urging dictator Bashar Assad to resign and stop “imprisoning, torturing and slaughtering his own people.”

The White House last week said Mr. Obama has “no plans” to summon Ambassador Robert Ford back to Washington.

“We need to have him there,” Tommy Vietor, a spokesman for the National Security Council, said last week.

A senior administration official added that Mr. Ford is Washington’s “main channel for contact” with the Assad regime. He added that Mr. Ford most recently met with Syrian officials earlier last week.

“Ambassador Ford has delivered very emphatically messages about our deep concerns about the abuse of Syrian citizens,” said the official, speaking on the condition that he not be identified.

On Friday, a group of leading Syrian dissidents, many living in the United States, and their American supporters urged Mr. Obama to recall his ambassador to intensify pressure on Mr. Assad to leave office.

“Recall Ambassador Robert Ford from Damascus unless he is clearly charged with aiding the transition to democracy in Syria,” they wrote in a letter to Mr. Obama.

They also appealed to the president to demand that other countries adopt tough measures against the Syrian regime. They called on Mr. Obama to encourage France, Germany and Italy to stop buying Syrian oil and urge Swiss and Dutch energy trading firms to cease doing business with Damascus.

“We urge you to grasp this opportunity and increase your administration’s efforts to ensure that the brave people taking to the streets in Syria are soon able to enjoy the fruits of freedom that we in the West hold so dear,” they wrote.

The signers of the letter included: Khairi Abaza of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies; Amma Abdulhamid, a pro-democracy Syrian advocate; Hussain Abdul-Hussain of the Kalimah Institute in Washington; Fouad Ajami of the Hoover Institute; and Amr al-Azm of the Antalia Committee, a group of Syrian dissidents trying to form a provisional government.

The Americans who signed the letter included Elliot Abrams, a former foreign policy adviser to presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, and R. James Woolsey, a former CIA director.

Members of Congress have been calling on Mr. Obama for months to recall the ambassador to protest Mr. Assad’s deadly assault on peaceful protests. Syrian police and soldiers are accused of killing more than 2,000 demonstrators.

In another development, the State Department last week announced new travel restrictions on Syrian Ambassador Imad Moustapha and the other eight diplomats at the Syrian Embassy. The restrictions also apply to their families and any visiting Syrian official.

The travel limits are in retaliation for restrictions the Syrian government slapped on Mr. Ford after he and French Ambassador Eric Chevallier in July visited the flash point city of Hama, a hotbed of protests against the Assad regime.

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