- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 25, 2011

DIPLOMATIC TIT FOR TAT

The United States and Syria this week engaged in a diplomatic showdown that resulted in Washington and Damascus recalling their ambassadors, as tensions increased over Syria’s bloody assault on unarmed demonstrators.

Syrian state-owned television on Monday announced that President Bashar Assad summoned Ambassador Imad Moustapha to return to Damascus, shortly after the State Department announced the recall of Ambassador Robert Ford because of threats against his life.

Mr. Moustapha has been Syria’s ambassador in Washington since 2005 and has fiercely defended the Assad regime’s crackdown on anti-government protests since demonstrations erupted in March. The United Nations says Syrian forces have killed about 3,000 unarmed civilians in the demonstrations.

In a message posted on the Syrian Embassy’s website, Mr. Moustapha repeated Mr. Assad’s claim that the protests are orchestrated by armed rebels.

Syria is presently facing unprecedented challenges and, at the same time, opportunities for democracy, peace, prosperity and hope,” he said. “The events under way since March remain far more complex than what the international media has portrayed.”

He accused a “minority” of Syrians of engaging in an “armed uprising” against Mr. Assad, widely considered one of the most autocratic rulers in the Middle East and one closely allied with Iran.

“No government in the world, including the United states, would tolerate an armed insurrection, regardless of the motive,” Mr. Moustapha said.

The ambassador also denied that Syria has any contacts with Mohamad Soueid, a Syrian-American arrested earlier this month in Northern Virginia on charges of spying on Syrians in the United States who oppose the Assad regime.

“The accusation that a U.S. citizen is working with the Syrian government to intimidate U.S. citizens is absolutely baseless and totally unacceptable,” the Syrian Embassy said.

The State Department accused Assad supporters of threatening the U.S. ambassador when it announced the recall of Mr. Ford on Monday.

“Ambassador Ford is on leave indefinitely,” one State Department official told reporters.

The ambassador returned to Washington because of “credible threats against his personal safety” in Syria, said department spokesman Mark Toner.

Mr. Ford, a career diplomat who arrived in Damascus in January, has publicly denounced the killings of protesters. He also has angered the Assad regime by visiting demonstrators in flash-point cities.

WHY UGANDA?

The chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee questioned President Obama’s decision to send troops to Uganda as she opened a hearing Tuesday on the U.S. mission to support the African nation’s fight against a brutal rebel army.

“We need clarity on the rules of engagement, the mission parameters and the definition of success, as well as how U.S. military presence in Central Africa furthers U.S. national security interests,” said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

Mr. Obama cited a law he signed last year as his authority for sending 100 military advisers to help Uganda in its war against the Lord’s Resistance Army, one of Africa’s most savage guerrilla movements.

The State Department listed it as a terrorist organization in 2001 and cited its leader, Joseph Kony, as a “specially designated global terrorist.”

Mrs. Ros-Lehtinen noted that it “murders, mutilates, tortures, rapes and loots with impunity.”

“But we are not here today to determine whether Joseph Kony is evil. We know he is,” she said.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297 or email jmorrison@washingtontimes.com. The column is published Monday, Wednesday and Friday.