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U.S. May Call for Assad to Step Down in Syria, Official Says
Aug. 12 (Bloomberg) -- The Obama administration may call on Syrian President
Bashar al-Assad to step down soon, a U.S. official said as the State Department
alleged the Syrian government has detained more than 30,000 people, some in
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she wants to see more pressure
on Assad to step down from Europe, India and China, including the sanctioning
of Syria’s oil and gas industry, speaking in an interview with CBS News
While the U.S. is concerned about the possibility of civil war in Syria, it
is more focused on the prospect of sectarian violence promoted by the Assad
government and the chance that the Syrian situation will spark instability in
the wider Middle East, said the official, who asked not to be identified
because the administration is still discussing the issue and considering the
timing of a possible announcement about Assad.
A call for Assad to quit would be the strongest U.S. condemnation of his
crackdown on dissenters who began an uprising five months ago.
The demonstrations are the biggest challenge to Assad’s rule since he
inherited power from his father 11 years ago. Human-rights activists who have
compiled the names of the dead say Assad’s forces have killed more than 2,400
protesters and detained thousands since mid-March.
Prisoners in Cages
The Syrian government has detained more than 30,000 people, with some in
cages, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said yesterday.
“The violence continues at extremely horrific levels” in Syria, Nuland told
reporters at a briefing in Washington.
Asked whether Assad should step down, Nuland said, “Syria would be a better
place without Assad. This is a decision for the Syrian people.”
The U.S. will “continue to ratchet up the pressure” on Assad, White House
press secretary Jay Carney told reporters traveling with President Barack Obama
to Michigan yesterday. Carney repeated his Aug. 10 statement that Syria would
be “better off” without Assad, stopping short of calling for his removal.
Momentum may be building for bolder steps to stop Assad after Saudi Arabia,
Kuwait and Bahrain recalled their ambassadors from Damascus this week and
Turkey said its neighbor is entering a “critical” period.
Their appeal to both sides for an end to
the violence came as European nations renewed a push for a UN resolution
against the bloodshed and the U.S. imposed new financial sanctions on Syrian
banks and telecommunications. Pushing back, Syria’s UN ambassador, Bashar
Ja’afari, drew parallels between Prime Minister David Cameron’s response to
U.K. riots and Syria’s approach to armed “gangs.”
While further action is needed, getting the
Security Council “on board” in light of Russia-led opposition may prove
difficult, said George A. Lopez, a peace studies professor at University of
Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute who was on a UN panel of experts monitoring
compliance with sanctions. “Only massive and tight arms embargo, oil sanctions
and further financial freezes can work now,” he said.
Russia has indicated it isn’t convinced that a UN resolution is needed to
stop the repression of protesters.
Obama Telephone Call
Obama spoke by telephone yesterday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip
Erdogan about the situation in Syria. The two agreed on “the need for an
immediate halt of all violence and bloodshed” and “to closely monitor the
actions that the Syrian government is taking” in response to anti-government
protests, according to a White House statement.
“To the U.S., getting Assad out now would maybe save lives and avoid bigger
regional pressures later,” said Theodore Karasik, director of research at the
Dubai-based Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis. “However, even
if he steps aside, that won’t take care of the problem because it’s not just
the person, it’s the system itself.”
Assad this week responded to growing
criticism about the crackdown by admitting “some mistakes” were made by his
security forces in the “initial stages” of unrest. Diplomats representing
Brazil, India and South Africa -- a bloc in the UN Security Council reluctant
to punish Assad -- said in an e- mailed statement that they met in Damascus
with the Syrian leader, who told them “efforts were under way to prevent” the
mistakes from recurring.
At least 39 people have been killed in the
past two days in Deir al-Zour in the eastern part of the country, the central
province of Homs and northern governorate of Idlib and in Daraa in the south,
said Ammar Qurabi of the National Organization for Human Rights in Syria. Abdul-Karim
Rihawi of the Syrian Human Rights League was arrested at a café in central
Damascus yesterday, Qurabi said.
Over 300 people have been killed by Syrian
security forces and the army since July 31, the eve of the Muslim holy month of
Ramadan, according to Qurabi and Mahmoud Merhi, head of the Arab Organization
for Human Rights