US pulls envoy out of Syria over security concerns

The U.S. has pulled its ambassador out of Syria over security concerns, blaming President Bashar Assad’s government for the threats.

In this Jan. 27, 2011 file photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrian President Bashar Assad, left, meets with Robert Ford. AP Photo.

In this Jan. 27, 2011 file photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrian President Bashar Assad, left, meets with Robert Ford. AP Photo.

State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Monday that Ambassador Robert Ford returned to Washington this weekend after “credible threats against his personal safety.” Toner couldn’t say when Ford might go back to Syria, saying it depended on a U.S. “assessment of Syrian regime-led incitement and the security situ ation on the ground.” Ford has enraged Syrian authorities with his forceful defense of peaceful protests and harsh critique of a government crackdown that has now killed nearly 3,000 people. Ford particularly angered Assad’s regime in July when he greeted demonstrators in the restive city of Hama.

Ford has been the subject of several incidents of intimidation by pro-government thugs, usually in coordination with pro-Assad media capturing the humiliation.

Last month, Ford and several colleagues from the embassy were pelted with tomatoes and eggs as they visited an opposition figure. U.S. officials said the assault was part of a campaign to intimidate diplomats investigating Assad’s repression of pro-reform demonstrators. Other such incidents have occurred after meetings with dissident groups or individuals.

Although Assad’s government has allowed Ford to remain in the country, it has tried to restrict where he can travel.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Senate unanimously approved Ford’s nomination, with Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry praising Ford for continuing to visit cities under siege and “speak truth to power.” Ford had been in Syria since January after being appointed to the post temporarily when the Senate was out of session.

Kerry said Ford has been steadfast “despite even being physically attacked and assaulted by the regime’s goons.”

Monday, October 24, 2011
WASHINGTON – The Associated Press