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Sunday, July 10, 2011

Robert Ford visits Hama

It appears that the Obama administration approved this move, which has to make you wonder whether the administration has finally realized that 'engaging' Bashar al-Assad is foolhardy.

In any event. US Ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, visited Hama on Thursday and Friday along with the French Ambassador to Syria, Eric Chevalier. The visit was 'unexpected' and the Syrians were not pleased about it.
Syria characterized Mr. Ford's visit as an attempt to incite unrest in Hama, deepening previous accusations by Damascus that U.S. sanctions on Syria are meant to derail its reform program. Bouthaina Shaaban, an adviser to Mr. Assad, said the visit was unauthorized and "an escalation" by the U.S. diplomat.

"The U.S. ambassador met in Hama with a number of the saboteurs and incited them to more violence and protest and to refuse dialogue," according to a statement on the official SANA news agency.

U.S. State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland called the claim "absolute rubbish."

For many Syrians, Hama is synonymous with the violent repression of the Assad family's four-decade rule. It has served as a reminder, in this uprising, of how far Syrians believe the regime could go to crush dissent.Syrian antigovernment activists say at least 1,700 people have been killed since protests erupted in mid-March.

"This was a signal from the U.S that Assad better not think of replicating the Hama massacre," said an official briefed on Mr. Ford's mission. "It was a gutsy move."

Ambassador Ford on Thursday visited Syrians injured by the security forces at a hospital. Ms. Nuland said he spent that day "expressing our deep support for the right of the Syrian people to assemble peacefully."

Mr. Ford's trip to the city was endorsed by the highest levels of the Obama administration, U.S. officials said. Ms. Nuland said that the U.S. had informed Syria's government that embassy personnel planned a visit to Hama and that to enter the city, Mr. Ford had passed through at least one military checkpoint and another one set up by Hama residents.

France's envoy to Syria, Eric Chevallier, also visited Hama on Thursday but returned Friday morning, a French government official said. His trip aimed to underline "France's commitment to be on the side of the victims," the foreign ministry said.

"We felt protected by their visit," said Abdelrahim al-Samaan, a Hama lawyer. "They obviously can't fire on crowds with Western officials here so it was calm and peaceful today, and the crowds were huge."
Read the whole thing.

Here are a couple of news reports on Ford's visit. This is Reuters. Let's go to the videotape.

And here's CNN. Let's go to the videotape.

I think this visit was directed at Congress. Visits like this might justify Ford's being there, but only if they become more frequent occurrences. The Obama administration has done little about Syria until now, and they are apparently starting to feel the heat.

What could go wrong?

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At 9:32 AM, Blogger NormanF said...

The US should break diplomatic relations with Syria, slap a full economic embargo on the country and render active assistance to democratic elements in the Syrian opposition who seek to overthrow the dictatorship. Its high time America ceased to enable the "Butcher Of Damascus" bloody tyrannical regime.


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