A Note from Ambassador Ford

September 30, 2011 at 9:21am

Several comments about my visit to the National Coordination Body on September 29: 


First, of course I respect the right of all Syrians to protest.  As I have said before, this includes those who are pro-regime and demonstrate accordingly.  It is as simple as respecting their right under the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.


Second, the UN Declaration does specifically say “peaceful protest;” I too have made it very clear that we support only peaceful protests and peaceful expression.  The U.S. Government has consistently urged a peaceful political transition that Syrians undertake alone.  President Obama and Secretary Clinton urged Assad to step aside precisely because he has shown no sign of being willing to allow a peaceful political transition to go forward.  Still to this day we have not seen one reform implemented on the ground – promises, but nothing concrete.  Millions of Syrians can’t see the alleged reforms either; some of them are marching in protest about it even as I write this.


Third, the September 29 incident in front of Hassan Abdul Azim’s office was not peaceful.  Look at the photos of the U.S. Embassy vehicles – eggs and tomatoes do not do such damage.   Protesters threw concrete blocks at the windows and hit the 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.  When the embassy car moved through the crowd, the man fell off the car.  At no time did any embassy vehicle hit any protester in the street.  The mob also tried to break through Abdul Azim’s office door.  Is that peaceful?  I’d call it intolerant if not worse.


I have received many messages from Syrians asking that we not think that the Syrian people always treat guests this way.  I personally have enjoyed great kindness from Syrians, both in my previous  visits as a tourist and during my time as ambassador.  The Arab custom of hospitality is one I deeply admire.  Americans understand that we are seeing the ugly side of the Syrian regime which uses brutal force, repression and intimidation to stay in power.  We deeply feel for the Syrian families that are enduring the violence, killings and torture and pain.  We hope that Syrians find solutions to the crisis soon, but we strongly doubt that the regime’s terrorizing the population will end the crisis.  The international community has enacted oil sanctions hoping to compel the regime, which receives one-third of its revenues from oil sales, to stop spending money on shabbiha and weaponry.  Respecting human rights and enabling a genuine political transition, by Syrians and Syrians alone, would end the crisis.


And some responses to a couple of the serious, thoughtful questions on the embassy page:


@Ninos Ishaia: We have expressed regret about security force losses.  All of those lost are real people.  I personally posted my regrets on June 1 and on July 10 on this page.  Secretary Clinton expressed her regret at security force losses in her article in Asharq al-Awsat on June 17.  However, the casualties among unarmed civilians are far greater; the UN is now estimating at least 2,700.   Moreover, the government’s use of excessive force – arrests, torture and extrajudicial killings (Ghiyath Matar, Hamza al-Khatib and Zeineb Hosni, just to name a few) are pushing more people from peaceful to armed opposition.  We don’t advocate such violence, but our analysis tells us this is happening on the ground. 


@Vigdis Jakupsdottir Mahfoud:  The September 29 meeting was not secret.  I walked down a public street in downtown Damascus at 11:00AM – does that sound secret, especially when you know that I am followed by Syrian intelligence?  I am accredited to the Syrian government, but diplomats from all nations’ embassies around the world meet with people from both inside and outside government.  At the Syrian ambassador’s home in Washington at a dinner in January I myself met American doctors, businessmen and politicians.  It’s normal.  And it is not a foreign conspiracy.  Syria’s problems come not from foreign interference but from intolerance – the same kind of intolerance we saw in front of Abdul Azim’s office.  Unfortunately, those problems now are growing worse and more violent.  And as for international law, the Vienna Convention requires that the Syrian government protect diplomats and not stop us from doing our normal work.