US says Assad failed to prove himself legitimate

AP News
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Posted: Jul 12, 2011 7:39 PM
US says Assad failed to prove himself legitimate

The United States said Tuesday that Syrian President Bashar Assad has failed to prove himself a worthy leader nearly two months after being challenged by President Barack Obama to guide his country toward a democratic transition or leave power.

In endorsing Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's declaration that Assad has "lost legitimacy," the White House moved closer to openly declaring its desire for regime change in Syria.

"Increasingly you're seeing President Assad lose legitimacy in the eyes of his people," Obama said in an interview with CBS News. "He has missed opportunity after opportunity to present a genuine reform agenda."

Presidential spokesman Jay Carney added that Assad was "not indispensable."

The more aggressive U.S. posture followed Monday's storming by an angry mob of the U.S. Embassy and American ambassador's residence in Damascus.

"We've been very clear that what we've seen on the part of the Syrian regime has been an unacceptable degree of brutality, directed at its people," Obama said. "We've certainly sent a clear message that nobody can be messing with our embassy, and that we will take whatever actions necessary in order to protect our embassy. And I think they've gotten that message."

Meanwhile, the State Department reported the U.S. Embassy in Syria was operational again Tuesday and that officials were able to work with Syrian authorities on improving security. Repairs were made to windows and cameras, and the Syrian foreign ministry returned an American flag that had been taken down by demonstrators.

"Things are improving on that front," spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said. "We do think that there is better attention now to our security."

She credited Syrian authorities for increasing security outside the embassy and residence, and for arresting six people in connection with Monday's events. She said they should now be subject to a free, fair and transparent judicial process.

Nuland also said Ambassador Robert Ford spoke Tuesday with Syria's foreign minister to follow up on U.S. concerns and that a "much more collaborative tone" emerged from the meeting. But she stopped short of thanking the Syrian government for its new spirit of cooperation.

Asked about Clinton's declaration that Assad has lost the legitimacy to lead his country, and its repitition by the White House on Tuesday, Nuland said that the Syrian leader failed to meet Obama's challenge of nearly two months ago: to lead a democratic transition or "get out of the way."

"What have we seen since then?" Nuland asked. "A Syrian government that continues to beat, imprison, torture, slaughter its own people."

She said Clinton on Monday wanted to dispel the myth that Assad was needed in Syria. And she said the U.S. was sympathetic with people refusing to join a dialogue with Assad while it takes place alongside "awful violence."

Also in Washington on Tuesday, the spokesman for Syria's Embassy to the U.S. said he was leaving his position.

"I leave my position during the most difficult yet promising of times in Syria's modern history," Ahmed Salkini wrote in an email. "I have been pained by every drop of Syrian blood lost. Still, I am certain of, and comforted by, the fact that Syria will emerge from this crisis more democratic, unified, freer and stronger than ever."