According to an announcement from the State Department, the Syrian government has been formally notified by the United States that its embassy here must suspend operations. The Syrian consulates located in the states of Michigan and Texas must also suspend operations. The notification bars Syria’s envoys in the U.S. from carrying out any of their diplomatic and consular duties. The Syrian diplomats assigned to the embassy and consulates have until the end of this month to leave the United States.
At a town-hall-style meeting of university students at the State Department, Secretary of State John Kerry said that the continued presence of a functioning Syrian Embassy had been “an insult.” Mr. Kerry continued, “And we closed it. It’s that simple.” However, Mr. Kerry did not repeat the earlier assertion of the Obama administration that the days were numbered for the Syrian leader. The government of President Bashar al-Assad had continued to pummel cities and towns with a variety of military weapons, harming civilians in its attempts to root out members of the opposition seeking to remove Mr. Assad from power.
Mr. Kerry commented that the brutal tactics of Mr. Assad had cost him legitimacy and had ensured that a determined opposition would be against him as long as he sought to hold on to his position of power. Mr. Kerry said, “Whether they win, don’t win, they can’t regain legitimacy. The people of that country who’ve been driven out, whose kids, parents, brothers, sisters, grandfathers have been killed, are never going to look to him for leadership.”
The move by the United States is short of a formal break of relations, but should be worrying to the Syrian government nonetheless. The State Department move was welcomed by representatives of the Syrian opposition, but they said that far greater pressure on the Assad government was needed if the negotiations to end the conflict were to resume. In an interview, Hadi al-Bahra, the chief negotiator for the Syrian opposition, said, “The Americans really have to think strategically. If they are imagining that the Syrian issue will stay within Syria, they are making a major mistake.”