- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 10, 2011

U.S. ENVOY RATTLES SYRIA

The Syrian Foreign Ministry on Sunday summoned U.S. Ambassador Robert Ford to express its outrage over a trip he took to a restive city to show Washington’s support for anti-government demonstrators.

Mr. Ford, who was accompanied by French Ambassador Eric Chevallier, demonstrated “clear evidence of the American and French intervention in Syria’s internal affairs and confirms that there is external support [for the protesters],” a Foreign Ministry official told the state news agency SANA.

The news agency added: “The Foreign Ministry [expressed] strong objection over their visit to the city of Hama without the approval from the ministry.”

Pro-government demonstrators threw tomatoes, eggs and rocks at the U.S. Embassy in Damascus on Sunday to protest Mr. Ford’s visit. A State Department official said two embassy employees were struck by food but no one was injured.

The State Department sent a clear message last week, when spokeswoman Victoria Nuland announced that Mr. Ford would show support for the anti-government protesters by visiting Hama, which is ringed by security forces.

“The fundamental intention … was to make absolutely clear with his physical presence that we stand with those Syrians who are expressing their right to speak for change, who want a democratic future and who are expressing those views peacefully,” she told reporters.

Thousands of Hama residents waving olive branches and tossing flowers greeted Mr. Ford and Mr. Chevallier on Thursday after they arrived in Syria’s fourth-largest city, which has been the scene of large protests against the autocratic rule of President Bashar al-Assad .

The State Department, by publicly announcing the visit, also sent a signal to critics in Washington who complained that Mr. Ford had been too timid in responding to about 14 weeks of anti-government protests and security forces accused of killing more than 1,600 people.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, was angered last month when Mr. Ford went on a government-sponsored trip to Jisr ash-Shughur after Syrian troops seized the city to clear out demonstrators.

“It compromised U.S. credibility with freedom and pro-democracy advocates within Syria at a critical time,” the Florida Republican said.

Also Sunday, Iran, which has strong ties with Syria, complained about Mr. Ford’s visit to Hama.

Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammad Reza Raouf Sheibani called Mr. Ford’s visit “suspicious,” the Iranian news agency FARS reported.

DIPLOMATIC TRAFFIC

Foreign visitors in Washington this week include:

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