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US Lawmakers Urge Obama to Call for Resignation of Syria's Leader

In this citizen journalism image made on a mobile phone Tuesday May 10, 2011 and acquired by the AP, Syrian anti-government protesters carry candles during a rally in the northeastern city of Qamishli, Syria.

As violence escalates in Syria and a government crackdown intensifies, some American lawmakers are questioning why President Obama has not yet called for President Bashar al-Assad to step down - as the administration has done in other parts of the Middle East and North Africa.

Amateur video appears to show the Syrian government is carrying out more raids across the country as it intensifies its crackdown on anti-government protesters.

On Wednesday, in Washington, Independent Senator Joe Lieberman introduced a bipartisan resolution urging the Obama administration to speak out more forcefully against Syrian leader. “In my opinion, Bashar al-Assad is a thug, a murderer, a totalitarian leader who is pursuing the Gadhafi model and hopes to get away with it," he said.

Republican Senator Marco Rubio, a co-sponsor of the resolution, says he wants to make three things clear with this resolution. “We support the right to personally pursue a better future for their country. Second, America condemns the crimes that are being committed by the Syrian government and third, Bashar al-Assad should no longer be treated the legitimate ruler of Syria. Like his father before him, he is a criminal," he said.

State Department spokesman Mark Toner insists the Obama administration is doing everything it can. “It’s important to say that we’ve been absolutely coherent and crystal clear in denouncing the violence the Syrian government has been carrying out against its own people there is a high level of concerns about what’s happening in Syria among many of our partners and allies and we are looking at the best ways to address it," he said.

But two months after the initial uprising began and with more than 500 people reported killed, Republican Congressman Don Manzullo of Chicago charges America is giving the Syrian leader a pass, asking “Why doesn’t the administration ask him to step down?”

Khaled Elgindy of the Brookings Institution says the situation in Syria is too complex for simple solutions. “I think the international community is sort of in a corner. They are sort of in a bind. They are not sure what to do. They don’t want another Libya; both on the ground and in terms of the response. I don’t think there is any international will for direct intervention like what we saw in Libya," he said.

Elgindy also notes the irony between the situation in Syria and the events in Egypt which led to the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak. “Mubarak was very close to the United States and yet some feel he was pushed out of power by the U.S. Then you have Syria, which is not a close ally to the U.S. and we’ve had a very rocky relationship over the years and yet we are taking a much more constraint view," he said.

Nevertheless, says Elliott Abrams at the Council on Foreign Relations, calling for an ally to step down and not doing the same for a non-ally is "simply strange." He says for years, Mr. Assad has been saying he’ll make changes. “Assad has put forth this image of being a reformer or [would be a reformer] on lots of westerners including Americans who have traveled in Damascus and have been charmed by his beautiful wife//the fact is it’s a reign of terror for 10 years since he took over," he said.

Khaled Elgindy at Brookings also says regime change in Damascus would completely changes the situation in the region because of Syria's involvement in Lebanon and the Arab-Israeli conflict - and its key position on the Iraqi border.

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    Mariama Diallo

    Mariama Diallo is a senior reporter covering national and world affairs for Voice of America in multiple languages. She was recently the VOA acting bureau chief for the agency's West Africa office.