U.S. "reads riot act" to Syria after envoy attacked

Reuters News
Posted: Sep 30, 2011 4:23 PM
U.S. "reads riot act" to Syria after envoy attacked

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. State Department "read the riot act" to Syria's ambassador after Thursday's attack on the U.S. envoy in Damascus, demanding more protection for U.S. diplomats and compensation for damaged U.S. property, officials said on Friday

Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman summoned Syrian Ambassador Imad Moustapha to the State Department and "read the riot act about this incident," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.

"He was reminded that Ambassador (Robert) Ford is the personal representative of the president and an attack on Ford is an attack on the United States. He was also asked for compensation for our damaged vehicles," she said.

In the attack, supporters of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad hurled rocks and tomatoes at Ford and his aides as they visited a prominent opposition figure in Damascus.

Nuland said Ford -- who has angered the Syrian government by taking an unusually public stance in support of Syria's opposition since protests broke out in March -- was determined to keep reaching out to figures across the political spectrum.

She said the United States was particularly concerned that it took some two hours for Syrian security forces to intervene to rescue Ford from what she called a "rent-a-mob".

"We find it incomprehensible that Syrian security authorities are somehow able to arrive on the scene of peaceful opposition demonstrations in Damascus in a matter of minutes and yet it took them almost two hours to come to the aid of Ambassador Ford," she said.

Ford gave his own account of the incident on the U.S. Embassy's Facebook page, saying protesters threw concrete blocks at windows and hit embassy cars with iron bars.

"One person jumped on the hood of the car, tried to kick in the windshield and then jumped on the roof. Another person held the roof railing and tried to break the car's side window," said Fore, calling demonstrators "intolerant if not worse."

Ford denied his convoy hit a protester on the street, and Nuland said accounts to the contrary were "Syrian disinformation."

The United States has imposed several rounds of sanctions on Assad and his government since the start of the crackdown on opposition protests, which the United Nations estimates has killed at least 2,700 people.

Ford said he was concerned that brutal government tactics are pushing more people toward taking up arms.

"We don't advocate such violence, but our analysis tells us this is happening on the ground," he said. "It is not a foreign conspiracy. Syria's problems come not from foreign interference but from intolerance."

(Reporting by Andrew Quinn; editing by Todd Eastham)