August 19, 2011 – The U.S. and its European allies on Thursday called for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down and outlined a broad campaign to force him from power by targeting his regime’s finances, including an embargo on Damascus’s oil sales.
With Mr. Assad’s forces engaged in a lethal crackdown on dissent, President Barack Obama, in coordination with the leaders of the U.K., France, Germany and the European Union, said Mr. Assad had squandered his opportunity to liberalize Syria’s political system and predicted his government’s collapse is now inevitable.
The unified Western campaign to dislodge Mr. Assad marks an escalation of previous condemnation of the bloodshed in Syria, and paralleled increasingly tough positions against Syria by leading Arab and Muslim countries, in particular Turkey and Saudi Arabia, which are seen as having the most leverage over Damascus.
“We have consistently said that President Assad must lead a democratic transition or get out of the way,” Mr. Obama said. “He has not led. For the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for President Assad to step aside.”
Late Thursday, activists in Syria reported security forces opening fire on protesters marching after the evening prayers in the suburbs of the capital Damascus and in Homs, while dozens of people were detained in home raids or random arrests in Damascus and Aleppo, a regime stronghold.
Bashar Ja’afari, Syria’s ambassador to the United Nations, said on Thursday, that the U.S. and other Security Council members are “waging a “diplomatic and humanitarian war” against Syria. “Show me an international law that allows anyone to question the legitimacy of any president.”
U.S. officials said they fear retaliation by the Syrian leader’s supporters, including possibly a second attack on the U.S. Embassy in Damascus.
U.S. and European officials admitted that they don’t expect Mr. Assad to bow to international pressure and resign. Many acknowledge that violence inside Syria could intensify in coming months; Mr. Assad’s security forces appear to be willing to fight until the end.
Mr. Assad’s backers predicted the U.S. and European intervention in Syria’s internal affairs would breed more support for the Syrian leader.
“Since when does it matter what Obama tells the Syrian people to do?” said Mahmoud Akkam, a leading Sunni Islamic scholar in Aleppo. “He is neither a defender of the Syrian people nor of our security.”
The Obama administration’s moves followed weeks of internal deliberations about how aggressively to seek Mr. Assad’s ouster, said senior U.S. officials involved in the debate. Read More