News / Middle East

Diplomatic Collision Course' Leads to Recalls of US, Syrian Ambassadors

New U.S. ambassador Robert Ford (R) talks with Syria's President Bashar al-Assad after presenting his credentials to Assad, in Damascus January 27, 2011.
New U.S. ambassador Robert Ford (R) talks with Syria's President Bashar al-Assad after presenting his credentials to Assad, in Damascus January 27, 2011.

Hours after the U.S. State Department announced that U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford had returned to Washington as a result of security threats, the Syrian embassy in Washington said its ambassador, Imad Moustapha, was returning to Damascus.  

Both the U.S. ambassador to Syria and the Syrian ambassador to the U.S. have been recalled to their capitals, and officials on both sides say the respective recalls are for consultations. But State Department officials also say Ford was brought back to Washington as a result of "credible threats" to his safety.

Speaking to reporters in Washington Monday, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland underscored that Ford's return to Washington is not a withdrawal.  She also accused the Syrian government of engaging in a "smear campaign" against the U.S. diplomat.

"We are concerned about a campaign of regime-led incitement targeted personally at Ambassador Ford by the state-run media of the government of Syria, and we're concerned about the security situation that that has created," she said.

Nuland said Ford is expected to return to Damascus after his consultations are completed, although the timing is uncertain.  She said the Syrian government must provide for Ford's security when he returns.

Ford, a career diplomat, was appointed U.S. ambassador to Syria in January.  He has served in Algeria, Bahrain and Iraq within the past decade.

Salman Shaikh, who specializes in conflict resolution issues in the Middle East, is the director of the Brookings Doha Center.  He told VOA that Syrian media have tried to portray Ambassador Ford's work in Iraq in an unfavorable light. "I think it's an effort to try to paint him into some sort of a sectarian picture as well, to capitalize on perhaps some of the sectarian issues that have come to the fore in Iraq and to try and, not so subtly, link them with sectarian issues in Syria itself," he said.

Ford has been an outspoken critic of the Syrian government's violent crackdown on political dissent. The United Nations says 3,000 people have been killed since the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government began in March.   

Ford's stance has agitated the Syrian government and its supporters.  Last month, an angry mob confronted him as he prepared to meet a leading opposition figure in Damascus.  And the Syrian government issued an order restricting the movements of foreign ambassadors after Ford and the French ambassador visited the city of Hama to show solidarity with residents there.

Shaikh says Ford has played a very important role in bearing witness to the situation inside Syria, and his departure will be a blow to members of the Syrian opposition.  Still, he points out that the United States and other members of the international community have relations with Syrian opposition figures inside Syria and abroad.   

"It's important, Ambassador Ford leaving, but I think it's not necessarily the end of the world in terms of the efforts to work with the opposition.  It does, though, signal that there will be one less line of communication, direct line of communication, between the Syrian regime and the United States.  And that will likely, I think, lead to a further ratcheting up of tensions between them," he said.

State's Nuland again said engagement with Mr. Assad is over.  And, while the U.S. and Syria maintain diplomatic relations, U.S. officials, including President Barack Obama, have called on President Assad to step aside.  Shaikh says the recalls may have been inevitable.  

"We have been on a diplomatic collision course between the United States and the Assad regime in Syria. It's been surprising that it has taken this long for Ambassador Ford to finally depart from Syria, given the pressures that were mounting on him, and then, of course, for the reciprocal action that the Syrians have also taken with Imad Moustapha also leaving Washington," he said.

Despite the ambassadors' absences, the U.S. embassy in Syria and the Syrian embassy in the United States are staffed and operating.

You May Like

Nigeria Incumbent in Tight Spot as Poll Nears

Muhammadu Buhari is running a strong challenge to Goodluck Jonathan, amid a faltering economy and Boko Haram security worries More

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo tells VOA that despite her fame, life is still a struggle as she waits for government's promise of support to arrive More

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

At least seven different indigenous groups in Ratanakiri depend mainly on forest products for their survival, say they face loss of their land, traditional way of life More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More