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Embassy Row

- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 21, 2011

DON'T LEAVE DAMASCUS

The Syrian foreign minister this week warned the U.S. and French ambassadors that they will face severe travel restrictions if they leave Damascus again without government permission.

Meanwhile, the U.S. ambassador for war crimes said the killing of unarmed Syrian anti-government demonstrators is a "crime against humanity."

Foreign Minister Walid al Moallem directed his anger at U.S. Ambassador Robert Ford and French Ambassador Eric Chevallier because the two diplomats left the Syrian capital earlier this month without informing the government and visited the city of Hama, a hotbed of protests against Syrian President Bashar Assad.

"We will impose a ban on any diplomatic travel more than [15 miles] outside Damascus if the ambassadors continue to ignore our guidance," Mr. Moallem said at a lecture at Damascus University.

"I hope we will not be forced to impose the ban," he added.

Mr. Moallem said the government decided against expelling the ambassadors "because we hope to maintain better relations in the future."

The Foreign Ministry reacted with fury after Mr. Ford and Mr. Chevallier visited Hama on July 7. It accused the diplomats of inciting violence.

Four days later, pro-government mobs attacked the U.S. and French embassies in Damascus.

In a separate development this week, Stephen Rapp, U.S. ambassador-at-large for war crimes issues, said the killings of Syrian protesters constitute "crime against humanity."

Human rights activists accuse the Syrian army of killing between 1,400 and 1,600 civilians during four months of protests.

"We are watching the situation in Syria very closely," Mr. Rapp, a former prosecutor for war crimes in Sierra Leone, told the Guardian newspaper in London.

"We see crimes against humanity. ... That needs to stop, and there needs to be accountability."

Mr. Rapp was in the British capital to confer with other Western diplomats on additional measures to take against the Assad regime.

'GRAPPLING' WITH UNREST

Bahrain's ambassador in Washington is trying to convince Americans that her country is doing its best to deal with political unrest that has pitted the Shiite Muslim majority against the Sunni Muslim monarchy.

"Like all young, vibrant democracies, Bahrain is constantly grappling with the best ways to fulfill the legitimate aspirations of its people," Ambassador Houda Nonoo told the Washington Intergovernmental Professional Group this week.

"We take heart in drawing on the example of our stalwart allies in the United States. Surely American democracy has evolved for the better in its 235-year history."

Mrs. Nonoo insisted that King Hamad bin Isa al Khalifa has begun a process of "healing" in the Arabian Gulf nation that hosts the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet.

Hamad declared a state of emergency in March and invited in Saudi troops to put down demonstrations inspired by Arab protests that toppled the governments in Egypt and Tunisia. He has arrested dozens of demonstrators, and eight have been sentenced to life in prison.

However, he also is convening a royal commission to investigate the causes of the unrest and is planning talks with the Shiite opposition.

"The Royal Commission of Inquiry is the first institution of its kind in the Arab World," Mrs. Nonoo said.

"His majesty, the king, established the commission so that its findings would reveal the truth and assist all Bahrainis in putting the events of the past behind us, as we move toward a brighter future of unity and cohesion."

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297 or email jmorrison@washingtontimes.com. The column is published on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

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