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

UN Watchdog Urges Israel to Probe Possible Gaza War Crimes

More than 2,100 Palestinians, most of them civilians, were killed in a 51-day war in Gaza, along with 67 Israeli soldiers and six civilians in Israel More

New Kenyan 'Thin SIMs' Poised to Transform African Mobile Money

Equity's new technology is approved in African nation for one-year trial, though industry leader Safaricom says thin SIMs could lead to data theft and fraud More

Solar's Future Looks Brighter

New technology and dropping prices are contributing to a surge in solar power 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.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid