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

EU Court Fines Poland for Hosting CIA 'Black Sites'

Ruling is first time a court has acknowledged suspects were held and tortured at the sites, under US program launched following the 9/11 terrorist attacks More

Migrant Issues Close to Home Spur Groups to Take Action

Groups placing water, food in the desert, or aiding detainees after release, have one common goal: no more deaths of migrants crossing illegally into the US More

Video At AIDS Conference, Prevention Pill Stirs Excitement

Truveda shows promise, spurring debate over access and other approaches 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.
Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debatei
X
Shelley Schlender
July 24, 2014 6:43 PM
In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Death Toll From Israel-Gaza Conflict Surpasses 700

Gaza officials say a shelling hit a compound housing a United Nations-run school in the Gaza Strip, killing more than a dozen people, during an Israeli offensive in the area. Heavy fighting between the Israeli military and Hamas militants continued on Thursday, pushing up the death toll. So far, more than 730 Palestinians and 35 Israelis have been killed in the conflict. VOA's Scott Bobb has the latest from Jerusalem.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video Israel Targets Gaza Supply Tunnels

The Israeli military has launched a ground operation in Gaza to destroy the myriad tunnels that may have been used to smuggle weapons to Hamas. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports that could mean more hardship for the people of Gaza, who obtain some of their essential supplies through these underground passages
Video

Video Researchers Target Low-Cost Avatar Technology

Scientists at the University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies say 3-dimensional representations could revolutionize social media. Elizabeth Lee has more from Los Angeles.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.

AppleAndroid