U.S. investigates Syrian diplomats for spying on protesters

State Department may limit their travel

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“We are also investigating reports that the Syrian government has sought retribution against Syrian family members for the actions of their relatives in the United States exercising their lawful rights in this country, and will respond accordingly.”

In Syria, main opposition groups boycotted talks with the government on Sunday and said they would not negotiate until Mr. Assad stops the violent crackdown and frees thousands of political prisoners.

Even many of the intellectuals, independent parliamentarians and minor opposition figures who did attend the conference, aimed at setting the framework for national dialogue, were critical of the government crackdown.

Syrian Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa called for a transition to democracy in a country ruled for four decades by the Assad family dynasty. He credited mass protests with forcing the regime to consider reforms while warning against further demonstrations.

A senior State Department official said in response to the meeting: “We and the Syrian people are looking for positive and genuine action from the Syrian government that leads to a transition. This transition must meet the aspirations of the Syrian people. The Syrian government will be judged by its concrete actions, not its words.”

The public allegations against Mr. Moustapha could signal the fall in stature for an ambassador who became a fixture of the diplomatic cocktail-party circuit in Washington in the first years of the Obama administration.

Mr. Moustapha, unlike many of his predecessors, is accessible to reporters and even kept up a personal blog. An entry from Jan. 31, 2009, discusses recent dinner parties that the ambassador threw under the title “Friends and More Friends.”

His dinner guests have included journalists Seymour Hersh and Helene Cooper of the New York Times and members of Congress.

“Common sense says that given what has happened inside Syria, Moustapha is in a complicated and tense situation in Washington,” said Steve Clemons, Washington editor-at-large for the Atlantic magazine, who has included the ambassador among his guests at parties.

“I would be highly surprised if the embassy served as a base for intimidation of Syrian-American families but have no sense of this one way or another. I think that Moustapha believes in engagement and supports broad economic liberalization,” Mr. Clemons said.

He added, “Just as ambassadors of the United States need to obey the dictates of policy whether conservative, liberal or neoconservative - Moustapha must follow the instructions of his home base or resign.”

Mr. Clemons said he last saw the ambassador at a dinner he hosted for Robert Ford, who was appointed last year as U.S. ambassador to Syria.

Michael Singh, managing director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said the allegations against Mr. Moustapha are “beyond the pale.” He said the Obama administration should kick the ambassador out of the country or at the very least restrict his movement.

“It would be outrageous for any foreign government to do this in the United States. But the fact that this is the Syrian regime that is doing this and is reportedly using the information against families or associates of people here in the United States makes it even worse,” Mr. Singh said.

Mr. Singh served as senior director for the Middle East on the National Security Council staff under President George W. Bush.

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