The State Department on Wednesday raised concerns that the security apparatus surrounding Syrian President Bashar Assad is beginning to falter after top Syrians were killed in a bombing at the National Security headquarters.
“We think the regime is losing control in Syria,” said State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell, who added that U.S. officials are “watching the situation very closely” amid concerns that a chaotic power vacuum could open should Mr. Assad himself be assassinated.
While it was not yet clear who carried out the bombing that killed Syrian Defense Minister Daoud Rajha and Gen. Hassan Turkmani in Damascus on Wednesday, the State Department and White House attempted to frame it as a turning point benefiting Syrian opposition forces.
Unease over the development was palpable at the Pentagon, where Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta described Syria’s security situation as “spinning out of control.”
Mr. Panetta was joined at a press briefing by British Defense Minister Philip Hammond, who added “there is a sense that the situation is deteriorating and is becoming more and more unpredictable.”
Both men stressed the need for the international community to come together to put collective pressure on the Syrian government to convince Mr. Assad to step down. U.S. officials hope such a development could open the window for a peaceful political solution to the mounting violence between the Syrian military and opposition forces.
The Treasury Department on Wednesday announced new measures to freeze the assets of 29 senior Syrian government officials, but past attempts to impose broader sanctions have been weighed down by diplomatic resistance from Russia, which maintains a Naval Base in Syria.
U.S. officials lobbied the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday to pass a resolution allowing for wider sanctions against the Assad government. Russia has threatened to veto such a resolution.
President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin were reportedly unable to resolve their differences on the issue during a telephone discussion on Wednesday.
In Moscow, a Kremlin spokesman told reporters that “differences in approaches remain” between the United States and Russia on the issue of Syria.